Main Page

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 21:15, 17 June 2013 by Waldir (Talk | contribs)

Jump to: navigation, search

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!

We have collaboratively explained 4 xkcd comics, and only 1672 (99.76%) remain. Add yours while there's a chance — or extend incomplete descriptions!

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.


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 in narrow spaces, as in newspaper columns or some web pages: 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 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 "deign-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 to the ones already available for constructing boxes [add note about that here?], allowing variable-length snakes to be used as filling. This suggestion is quite ridiculous; 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. Thus, while humourous, Randall's suggestion would likely be rejected.

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.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.

Strategies for full-width justification

[Below this headline is a column of boxes, each showing a different "strategy" which is annotated beside it.]

Giving up

Letter spacing






The full text (with alternate changes) reads:

...their famous paper on the relationship between [crap like]/[ 🐍 ] deindustrialization and the growth of ecological...

Is this out of date? Clicking here will fix that.

New here?

Last 7 days (Top 10)

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, memes and everything in between. If it is referenced in an xkcd web comic, it should be here.

  • List of all comics contains a complete table of all xkcd comics so far and the corresponding explanations. The missing explanations are listed here. Feel free to help out by creating them! Here's how.


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.

If you need assistance from an admin, post a message to the Admin requests board.

Personal tools


It seems you are using noscript, which is stopping our project wonderful ads from working. Explain xkcd uses ads to pay for bandwidth, and we manually approve all our advertisers, and our ads are restricted to unobtrusive images and slow animated GIFs. If you found this site helpful, please consider whitelisting us.

Want to advertise with us, or donate to us with Paypal?