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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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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.

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 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.

Transcript

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

Hyphenation

Stretching

Filler

Snakes

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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