A shorter 'shortest published sentence of the year' ?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/09/18 10:01 -07:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/michkap/archive/2005/09/18/470900.aspx


A little while ago, Geoffrey K. Pullum sent up to the Language Log a post entitled Shortest published sentence of the year.

And I do agree that the sentence in question:

Z.

is indeed a very short one.

But it got me thinking.

There were all those old IBM manuals that would start new sections by being sure to print on a page that would allow you to take a section out without robbing the previous or the next section of their pages.

Now that is a very noble and sensible goal for manuals that are published in three ring binders obviously intending to facillitate such practices, but that would mean that on a regular basis there would be blank pages.

Of course if you look at technical material, a blank page is a little scary -- perhaps it did not get printed, and important material is lost. So they would helpfully print somewhere on the page the following witty text:

(This page left intentionally blank.)

Of course the irony of the situation is inescapable (they made the page decidedly non-blank by printing the sentence, after all). It certainly has a shakier basis than the explanation of why you have to click the Start button to shut down.

Perhaps there is a construct that could be used that would allow what is printed to fulfill its purpose without giving lie to its own claim. The current state of affairs is simply far too Godelian!

So it got me thinking....

In the spirit of a Hofstadterian self-referential sentence, I could say:

The next sentence is left intentionally blank. .

In case you wish to object about the setup required for it to be in any way sensible, I would counter that "Z." needed even more of a setup than the one proceeding sentence....

Makes for a smaller sentence, no? :-)

 

This post brought to you by "." (U+ff0e, a.k.a. FULLWIDTH FULL STOP)
(a character that would perhaps not be a part of the shortest sentence of the year if its halfwidth cousin was also printed somewhere)


# Matthew W. Jackson on Sunday, September 18, 2005 1:42 PM:

This comment unintentionally left blank.

# Michael S. Kaplan on Sunday, September 18, 2005 1:48 PM:

The next comment left intentionally blank.

# Michael S. Kaplan on Sunday, September 18, 2005 1:48 PM:

.

# kfarmer on Sunday, September 18, 2005 2:14 PM:

You don't have to click the Start button to shut down. You can use Ctrl-Alt-Delete, instead.

# Michael S. Kaplan on Sunday, September 18, 2005 2:30 PM:

Hi kfarmer --

Yes, very true. But if you are trying to look at the UI there is no hint other than the bug button that says "Start" on it....

# Mihai on Sunday, September 18, 2005 2:43 PM:

"The shortest mail written in history occurred when Victor Hugo wrote his editor asking about the sale of his new book 'Les Miserables'. He just wrote '?'. The editor, who did not believe in wasting words and ink either, answered '!'."

(http://www.netfundu.com/homeA/didyouknow.asp?ques=277)

# petal on Sunday, September 18, 2005 6:38 PM:

!

# Mike Williams on Sunday, September 18, 2005 6:51 PM:

O U Z Y!

# Mike Williams on Sunday, September 18, 2005 6:53 PM:

Actually wouldn't it be shorter if he chose a letter whose line-segments were less than Z (and sansserif helps!)

# AndrewSeven on Monday, September 19, 2005 9:13 AM:

Isn't the start button the start of an activity; so you start somthing to shut down.

# Michael S. Kaplan on Monday, September 19, 2005 10:18 AM:

Andrew -- that is indeed the justification I refer to in the post... :-)

# Language Log on Saturday, September 24, 2005 6:58 PM:

In response to Geoff Pullum's post on the Shortest published sentence of the year ("Z."),

# Charles on Saturday, September 24, 2005 11:48 PM:

Well, it's only "published" in the sense of blogs being self-published, but I've seen bloggers use the following to indicate speechlessness by one of the conversers in response to something said by the other converser:

...

but then, technically it's not a sentence.

# Michael S. Kaplan on Saturday, September 24, 2005 11:49 PM:

There are now several contenders who either claim that the single bit of punctuation is not a valid sentence or alternately that it is but their pragmatic basis is more sound.

To them, I say the following:

?

# Alan Gunn on Sunday, September 25, 2005 11:47 AM:

Some years ago, a journal called "Word Ways" published a whole poem, the "No-Line Limerick," containing not a single word or symbol. (I wish I could give credit to the author, but I've forgotten.) You have to work up to it gradually, starting with the two-line limerick:

There once was a man from Peru,
Whose limericks would end with line two.

Next comes the one-line limerick:

There once was a man from Verdun.

Finally, the no-line limerick, which is about a man from Nepal:

# JAKE on Thursday, March 06, 2008 10:36 AM:

Riotiously, nerdly funny!

As a computer science Prof, this is the kind of stuff that can keep my classes alive.

Thanks!


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