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A bit more about the Up-Goer Five Text Editor

Click here to try the editor

Update: Up-Goer Six can colour code text you have already written. Thesaurus added to UG5, it’s from here with credit to jbonhag.

Update2: Now available in Norsk and Español + Español 5K.

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!

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  • Scott Strehlow · January 18, 2013 at 5:14 am

    This is cool. Difficult.

    Which gave me the idea of adding a thesaurus function. If a word is not on the list, have it look up synonyms that are on the list and plug them in.

    Maybe have a “dumbdown” button that takes the text and scans it. Then builds a web page with drop-down controls with the synonyms for all the forbidden words. We could then go through and pick the replacements, submit the form and have it come back with all the text in the single text box again.

    I don’t have the php-fu to do this myself, but perhaps someone who does would want to take up the challenge.

  • The Up-Goer Five Thing, Where Learned People Explain Hard Stuff With Easy Words | Smart News · January 18, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    [...] drawing, Theo Sanderson thought it would be funny to make a thing that would let everyone try their hand at writing like Munroe. So, Sanderson came up with “The Up-Goer Five Text [...]

  • The Up-Goer Five Text Editor (and how to use it for SEO) | halfblog.net · January 19, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    [...] A blog post by the creator: A bit more about the Up-Goer Five Text Editor – splasho.com [...]

  • NemaVeze · January 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    If all inflected forms are fair game, why did XKCD define hydrogen by quoting “Oh, the [humans]“? If not, isn’t “goer” cheating? I’m trying to understand the definition of word frequency that allows “goer” but not “humanity.” (I understand these are XKCD’s decisions originally, not yours.)

  • Finding Virtue » Brief history of the universe, through #upgoerfive · January 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    [...] – describing things using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language. See the Up-Goer Five Text Editor blog for more info and the original provocation from XKCD. This is my Gombrich-inspired history of the [...]

  • Admin comment by Splasho · January 19, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    @NemaVeze Yeah, no idea. Maybe just for comic effect, but I was always going to have to add them for plurals, etc.

  • Hotpepperman · January 21, 2013 at 4:30 am

    One point. It would be useful to show the ‘title’ of the examples of each of the entries.

  • camilla · January 21, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Any idea of having the same Editor in other languages?

  • The Up Goer Five Text Editor - ProfHacker - The Chronicle of Higher Education · January 21, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    [...] which checks your prose against a list of the thousand most commonly-used words. As Sanderson explains, the list is Wiktionary’s index of word frequency in contemporary [...]

  • Admin comment by Splasho · January 21, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    @Hotpepperman: Anyone can include a title by ‘placing_it_in_quotes’ at the top.

    @Camilla: If someone wants it in their own language and supplies me with a list featuring the top 1000 words (AND all their various forms, plurals and conjugations) then I can *probably* make a version in that language.

    Alternatively people can make their own versions, the concept of the code isn’t very complicated.

  • Vitor Baptista · January 22, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    Very cool!

    I would just like not having to wait for knowing if my writing is good. It would be great if the checking were done in my computer, instead of yours.

  • Flo · January 23, 2013 at 6:36 am

    I’d love to be able to have it working offline on my computer and/or iOS device. Any chance?

  • Terminologia etc. » » Non solo per gioco: frequenza delle parole · January 23, 2013 at 8:01 am

    [...] in base alla loro frequenza, visualizzabile con un clic. Dettagli sul corpus di riferimento in A bit more about the Up-Goer Five Text Editor ed esempi di testo semplificato [...]

  • Adam B · January 23, 2013 at 9:50 am

    I’d love it this could be tweaked to give a choice of wordlists; the corpus used to build this one seems extremely skewed to writing about schools!

  • how to talk about what you do in an easy to understand way | letstalkaboutscience · January 23, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    [...] by xkcd’s ‘Up-Goer Five’ comic and the list of the ‘ten hundred’ most used words in the English [...]

  • Day 165. UpGoerFive « Science for Life. 365 · January 24, 2013 at 2:33 am

    [...] often face when trying to talk to people outside their field of expertise. For this reason, the UpGoerFive project has been embraced by many scientists and those working in science [...]

  • George · January 25, 2013 at 11:18 am

    As a mother of a curious 3 year old boy i was astonished that the word ‘why’ is not included in this list. A very large part of my day is spent trying to answer this question!

  • Up-Goer Five and legal plain language « Legal Informatics Blog · January 26, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    [...] Click here for background on the Up-Goer Five editor. Share this:FacebookTwitterDiggStumbleUponRedditEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. [...]

  • Neferuki · January 28, 2013 at 3:26 am

    Here is my take on a film – the Story that Never Ends

  • Kevin Miklasz · January 30, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Wow… Well done. I work for a science education nonprofit that connects engineers to students. We had one of our volunteer programmers coding this exact website in his free time, until you beat us to it and scooped us :) .

    We’re in the midst of creating a series of P2PU courses to teach scientists and engineers how to teach a lesson to kids. The first activity is going to be “describe your research only using the top ten hundred words.” Since you’ve got the website made, we’ve love to include it in our course.

    Here’s a link to the P2PU course in draft form, should be finalized in the next week, but wanted to share it now! https://p2pu.org/en/groups/communicate-your-research-without-jargon/

    Be happy to talk about this more…

  • Admin comment by Splasho · January 30, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Hehe, this was actually online in November but recently got a lot more noticed. Apologies for thescooping.

    Feel free to include it in anything, good luck with the course!

  • Eli the Bearded · January 31, 2013 at 6:36 am

    In alt.sex.stories.d, someone put out a challenge to write a story using these thousand words (why does the list have 999 alphabetical entries and then end with “TRUE”?). I started a story in one browser and then tried to continue it in another. I’m havng problems, not with the word restriction, but with your editor. On my first browser I have google blocked, and things went smoothly. My second browser does not and frequently jumps me to your blog. Seems like maybe typing “sh” too fast does it? Pain in the ass to have to keep hitting back. Now, more than a thousand words into the story, it just keeps saying “error” where the “congrats” or vocabulary problem should be. URL too long problem?

    Anyway, I posted my story at the website, if you’d like to read it.

  • The Up-Goer Five Challenge – Thesis Edition | On a Quasi-Related Note · January 31, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    [...] to translate their research abstracts using a special web-based text editor to contain only the ten-hundred most common words. The challenge was taken up by many people, including chemists, who displayed their efforts on [...]

  • Andrea · February 3, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    @Eli – “true” is one of the ten hundred words, and I’m guessing it ended up in caps at the end of the list because the word was accidentally converted to a logical value (commonly designated by being in CAPS), and the list was sorted.

  • Contar cosas con mil palabras | Vísperas de nada · February 4, 2013 at 8:36 am

    [...] de las palabras más comunes, lo puso en marcha… y el editor comenzó a popularizarse. En esta página cuenta muy bien el proceso de toda esta [...]

  • habi.gna.ch » Blog Archive » Sprachexperiment · February 4, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    [...] 100 :) .Das ziemlich lustige Sprachexperiment xkcd 1133 hat einen anderen Geek dazu verleitet, einen Text-Editor zu schreiben, der einem Texte schreiben lässt, bei denen nur die 10 100 häufigsten Englischen Wörter [...]

  • #SCIO13 en begrippen die je echt moet kennen: ‘Up Goer Five’ | @RoyMeijer · February 10, 2013 at 11:13 am

    [...] En wil je meer weten over de achtergronden van dit idee, dan staat hier flink wat uitgelegd: http://splasho.com/blog/2013/01/17/a-bit-more-about-the-up-goer-five-text-editor/ [...]

  • #SCIO13 en begrippen die je echt moet kennen: ‘Up Goer Five’ | RoyMeijer · March 1, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    [...] En wil je meer weten over de achtergronden van dit idee, dan staat hier flink wat uitgelegd: http://splasho.com/blog/2013/01/17/a-bit-more-about-the-up-goer-five-text-editor/ [...]

  • Arjun · April 8, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    I ‘ve posted a cool mobile text editor for java phones.


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    [...] – Thu, 18 Apr 2013 10:20:02 +0400A bit more about the Up-Goer Five Text Editor · Splasho A bit more about the Up-Goer Five Text Editor · SplashoVideos @ LCC 2013-01-07 | On the LAKE front – Thu, 18 Apr 2013 10:19:51 +0400Videos @ LCC 2013-01-07 [...]

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  • Brian · May 10, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    1) why is the word “dice” allowed?
    2) you should implement a hash so the links aren’t so long.

    thanks for the cool idea!

  • Brian · May 10, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    oh, I see why “dice” was on there, it’s the plural of die.

  • try five · May 31, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Thank you for posting such a useful, impressive and a wicked article. Detailed and informative article.

  • Sue VanHattum · June 3, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    The Mr and Mrs thing, to allow for names? Could it be changed to Mr and Ms?

    Or could your add that the word after ‘my friend’ is allowed?

  • Admin comment by Splasho · June 3, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Did you try “Ms.”? It has always worked.

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  • fluffy · September 5, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    What encoding is being used for the base64 URL string? Whatever it is, it’s no more efficient than simply entering the text directly. Have you considered using gzip to compress it?

  • note · October 18, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    This site was… how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something which helped me.
    Thank you!

  • Marcel Vos · October 23, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Very interesting exercise. I think this would actually be a useful tool to help us communicate science to the general public. We could use this as a quick check to weed out the words that are beyond most people’s vocabulary. Most exercises show that we need more than a thousand words. And, surely, we can assume people know words like “crash” or “machine” (my attempt was about the LHC).
    If you ever develop the tool further to allow the user to configure the size of the vocabulary, I’d be very interested.

    Cheers, Marcel

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  • GreyKnight · December 18, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Hello Mr Splasho: I liked your simple writing idea. But I didn’t like that some of the words used to tell about it aren’t themselves some of the ten hundred most-used words. Here are my ideas to fix that: “text editor” should be “writing box” “inspired by” should be “idea from” “image” should be “picture” “created by” should be “made by”
    “non-permitted words” should be “words that aren’t allowed”
    “congratulations” should be “well done”
    I don’t know what to do about “perma-link”

  • GreyKnight · December 18, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Well, your comment box decided to take out my line breaks. Oh well.

  • Thorsten Schleicher · January 6, 2014 at 9:30 am

    Is there a german version around, if not I would like to help you getting this set up.

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  • A bit more about the 10 hundred most common words editor | sciencetell · February 10, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    [...] In the previous post I tried to describe my research using only the 10 hundred most common words. This was done with an editor called  The Up-Goer Five text editor. But  How did someone some up with this idea? Well, apparently Mr Randall Munroe from xkcd decided to draw a diagram of the Saturn V rocket. It was labelled the “Up-Goer Five’. But he also decided that the diagram would use only the thousand most common words in the English language to try to explain how this complex vehicle worked. If you want to know the rest of the story follow the link [...]

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