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Latest revision as of 09:15, 8 February 2016

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!
We have an explanation for all 1675 xkcd comics, and only 12 (1%) are incomplete. Help us finish them!

[edit] Latest comic

Go to this comic explanation

Full-Width Justification
Gonna start bugging the Unicode consortium to add snake segment characters that can be combined into an arbitrary-length non-breaking snake.
Title text: Gonna start bugging the Unicode consortium to add snake segment characters that can be combined into an arbitrary-length non-breaking snake.

[edit] Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: hasty & impatient placeholder. Still an early draft; needs citations, fact-checking, and it also needs the Wikipedia links to be fixed.

The comic refers to an irritating problem in laying out text to fit from edge to edge, the problem of justification. Sometimes, as before a long word like "deindustrialization," there's no universal good way to make the typography work. It is a difficult problem to make text look good and be easily legible especially in a narrow space, with the biggest issue being how to handle words that are too long or too short to fit nicely.

The comic shows several solutions to this problem, some realistic and others less so, but each unsatisfying. "Giving up" is ugly, leaving a line break which doesn't fit with the rest; hyphenating is visually confusing and hard to read ("deindus-" looks like an independent, unfamiliar word, pronounced "dayn-duss"); stretching is unnatural, probably hard to code or render, unfamiliar and quite ugly; adding "filler" words, a radical solution, makes the writing worse (in the case of the example, making the tone too informal); and adding a meaningless snake image, just long enough to fill the extra space, is a novel (and quite bizarre) solution which probably wouldn't actually be used by a serious typographer.

The title text suggests that in order to facilitate this last method of "solving" the problem, the Unicode consortium, the organization in charge of the common text standard Unicode, should add "snake-building characters" (similar in concept to the existing Box Drawing block), to allow variable-length snake images to be used as filling. The use of the phrase "non-breaking" in the title text implies that an automatic line break could not be inserted after a snake segment; the whole snake would shift down if it were too wide to fit on a given line. This suggestion would likely be rejected; the Unicode consortium is very specific about which characters are added[citation needed], and always require a good reason before adding a character or set of characters to the standard.

Note that in Arabic, it is common to stretch the lines connecting letters as a relatively elegant and satisfying resolution to this problem. This trick is called "kashida" (كشيدة) and is explained and illustrated here.

[edit] Transcript

[Caption above the panels:]
Strategies for full-width justification
[Below the caption is a column with six boxes, each showing a different "strategy" for justification which is annotated beside it. Here the anotation is written at the top and the text below. The top and bottom of the text is cut of in the middle, but as it can be "read" this is written anyway. Only for hyphenation does an extra word appear at the end. In the last with snakes, a snake is drawn to cover the entire space from the end of between to the right border.]
Giving up
their famous paper
on the relationship
between
deindustrialization
and the growth of
Letter spacing
their famous paper
on the relationship
b  e   t   w   e  e   n
deindustrialization
and the growth of
Hyphenation
their famous paper
on the relationship
between deindus-
trialization and the
growth of ecological
Stretching
their famous paper
on the relationship
between
deindustrialization
and the growth of
Filler
their famous paper
on the relationship
between crap like
deindustrialization
and the growth of
Snakes
their famous paper
on the relationship
between 🐍🐍🐍🐍
deindustrialization
and the growth of

[edit] Trivia

  • The full text (with alternate changes) reads:
...their famous paper on the relationship between [crap like]/[ 🐍 ] deindustrialization and the growth of [ecological]...


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Lots of people contribute to make this wiki a success. Many of the recent contributors, listed above, have just joined. You can do it too! Create your account here.

You can read a brief introduction about this wiki at explain xkcd. Feel free to sign up for an account and contribute to the wiki! We need explanations for comics, characters, themes and everything in between. If it is referenced in an xkcd web comic, it should be here.

  • There are incomplete explanations listed here. Feel free to help out by expanding them!
  • We sell advertising space to pay for our server costs. To learn more, go here.

[edit] Rules

Don't be a jerk.

There are a lot of comics that don't have set-in-stone explanations; feel free to put multiple interpretations in the wiki page for each comic.

If you want to talk about a specific comic, use its discussion page.

Please only submit material directly related to (and helping everyone better understand) xkcd... and of course only submit material that can legally be posted (and freely edited). Off-topic or other inappropriate content is subject to removal or modification at admin discretion, and users who repeatedly post such content will be blocked.

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