Watch 'xkcd' explain space travel using the simplest words possible

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The only bit I found weird was in the section explaining about fuel for rocket engines because one of the two examples used came with no real explanation of what it was depicting and seemed to assume that you’d already know about airships, and certain particular historical events (that weren’t really relevant anyway, except perhaps as a throwaway joke.) I would have thought that the “fire-water from dead animals” bit was close enough to being sufficient without being entirely misleading.
I did enjoy it a lot though.

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For more simple English space fun, listen to Space Weird Thing:


This whole concept kind of reminds me of Guy Steele’s (one of the inventors of the Scheme programming language) fantastic keynote at OOPSLA called growing a language. In it, he describes the process of how complex (language) concepts can be built from really simple ones.

SPOILER: All words used in the talk are either one syllable, or are words defined by previous words in the talk. It’s amazing how complex things can get by the end of the talk.

EDIT: Watching this again, for the first time in 10 years, I realize that this is much easier to appreciate if you already have some knowledge of programming and algorithms.


Would love to know where he gets his list; can’t find a source for it at At first I suspected GitHub, but apparently no. Wiktionary? Nope. The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists, Fourth Edition, 2000 [PDF]? Nyet. Poor Randall, saddled with a list that doesn’t include the word “science”! (Typing “science” into the SimpleWriter kicks it back as a not-top-10-100s word; it’s allowed by the three lists named above.)

Oddly, all three lists above include “paragraph,” but not “rock” (Wiktionary). Two out of three like “France” (GitHub). I thought for sure everyone would like “melody,” but not Wiktionary. And I thought for damn sure everyone would like “women,” but not Wiktionary. (To be fair, Wiktionary likes at least one woman, but doesn’t seem fond of a gang of 'em.) At least the Wiktionary list lets me ask, "What’s up with [Wiktionary]?

The book looks nice. I would buy it if it didn’t use that 1000 word limit gimmick. The humor for that wears off in about 5 seconds. Otherwise I would want my niece to see this video or read the book, but such humor would be lost on little kids and I think they would just be confused why he can’t say “rocket”.

Back to David Macaulay.

I think it’s that Randal may have made his Simple Write too simple, since ‘Science’ in on the original 850-word list from CK Ogden (at least according to this site, which was found as the source of the 850-word article/category link from the Basic English Wikipedia Article). Perhaps Randal made too much of a compromise in compiling his list, since he states that he combined many basic lists, which should have all included the 850-word core plus 150 extra ‘field specific’ words.

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