A few months ago Randall Munroe from xkcd drew a beautiful labelled diagram of the Saturn V rocket. However, it was not titled Saturn V because Mr Munroe had decided the diagram would use only the thousand most common words in the English language to try to explain how this complex vehicle worked, hence ‘Up-Goer Five’.
Seeing the contortions he endured to express himself in this restricted format, but the increased clarity it sometimes gave, I thought it would be interesting to try out writing with it myself. I hacked together an editor which would complain if you used any word not on a particular list.
Now, what list to use? Of course which words are used depends very much on what you are reading. Newspapers will be different to scientific papers, which will be different to novels. In the end I opted for consistency with the original comic. Some sleuthing by xkcd fans revealed that Mr Munroe used the contemporary fiction frequency list available on Wiktionary. (To make this tool maximally useful, a more rounded set of words like this might be better.) I used the Automatically Generated Inflection Database to make sure I had every derivative of these 1000 words – leading to some odd words like ‘themselveses’ being allowed!
I decided I might as well let everyone else try it, and gave it a bit of visual sprucing. Since then I’ve added a couple more features, like the ability to see what other people have been writing with the [RANDOM] button, and the ability to define terms using ‘quotes’. But it remains a very basic page.
After lying fairly dormant for a while it really took off today, after scientists on Twitter started trying to describe their research using it, under the hashtag #UpGoerFive. Some of these early ones were combined in poikiloblastic‘s Storify:
I thought I’d dash off a post, mostly to answer endless discussions about why the words allowed are the ones they are. Check out the latest uses at #UpGoerFive!