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Disappointing Stationery

So I was just making my dad’s birthday card. I felt it would benefit from some typography, so I got out a sheet of letter transfers I bought a while ago.

Something immediately leapt out at me: where are all the Es? As anyone who was a bit obsessed with cryptography when they were young knows, the most common letter in English is E, by a long way, and there are hardly any Qs, Xs or Zs. This fact has helped us (and our enemies) win wars.

So, here’s a graph of the relative letter frequencies on the sheet compared to the frequencies in the English corpus (from Simon Singh’s site):

There are about half as many Es as there should be and loads more Qs, Xs and Zs than I will ever use. Now, the sheet’s quite small, so a statistician would do a hypothesis test to see if there is a significant difference between the sheet and the corpus, but I’m not one of those so I’m going to stop here, outraged at WH Smith’s lack of rigour.

I suppose if they’d only put one Z in people would worry about a situation in which they needed to use two Zs, while it isn’t as immediately apparent that there aren’t enough Es to make use of the whole sheet.

The upshot is, I think my dad’s card is going to have to have somebody sleeping in a queue for a xylophone quorum, in order to get the most out of this sheet. My hands are tied by Statistics.

PS It isn’t all bad though – there are twice as many 1s as any of the other non-zero digits, so it at least makes a nod to Benford’s Law.