1540: Hemingway

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Instead of bobcat, package contained chair.
Title text: Instead of bobcat, package contained chair.


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This comic is a reference to the six-word short story For sale: baby shoes, never worn, which has been commonly attributed to famous author Ernest Hemingway; however, Randall Munroe explicitly states that this might not be the case at all. The comic plays on the fact that the original story takes the form of a short advertisement that might have been seen in a newspaper, and for these examples uses various modern 'standards' that did not exist in Hemingway's time. In keeping with the original, each example remains six words long. The title text obeys this rule, too.

In short: It is urban legend that Hemingway once wrote a story in just six words ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn.") and allegedly called it his best work.

The various drafts offered in the comic are:

  • "For Sale: This gullible baby's shoes": This suggests the seller somehow tricked the baby out of its shoes. This pokes fun at the tragedy that the original story suggests. With the original (For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn), readers could infer that the baby who would have worn the shoes must have died. Randall tries to make the reader infer other, more absurd things instead.
  • "Baby shoes for sale by owner": This suggests that a very intelligent baby is somehow selling its own shoes, or that someone is selling an old pair of shoes they had as a baby.
  • "Free shoes, provided you overpower baby": This suggests the person posting the ad doesn't in fact own the shoes, but rather is asking people to forcibly steal shoes from a baby wearing them.
  • "For Sale: Weird baby's toe shoes: This might be a reference to 1065: Shoes, where shoes with toes were considered "creepy".
  • "For Sale: Baby shoes / Prime eligible": This is a reference to Amazon, which offers Prime as a paid service to expedite shipping of items ordered on its website.
  • "This weird trick covers baby feet!": This is modeled after common 'click bait' wording designed to get users to visit web pages, typically using words such as "This weird trick" or "secrets they don't want you to know" to artificially increase its apparent appeal. XKCD has previously parodied click bait in 1283: Headlines.
  • "For Sale: Baby shoes, just hatched": This plays on the meaning of the phrase "baby shoes", reframing it to mean a newly-born shoe (similar to "baby bird"), rather than its typical meaning of footwear designed for babies.
  • "Sale: Seven-league boots (expedited shipping)": Seven-league boots are mythical boots that allow their user to move seven leagues (about 25 miles) per step. The "expedited shipping" part suggests that the boots will be shipped to the customer on the feet of a walking person, thus allowing the boots to be shipped much faster than if by airplane (except, of course, if the boots had to be shipped overseas).
  • "Complete this survey for free shoes": This is another reference to common internet marketing campaigns, where users are incentivized to take surveys in exchange for small compensation such as free samples or coupons.
  • "Shoes, by Ernest Hemingway [Citation needed]": This is a reference to Wikipedia. "Citation needed" is used to mark claims that require additional evidence to justify as true. In this case, Randall is using this to question whether the short story was really written by Hemingway.
  • "This is my greatest short story": This is a completely different style that could also have been used to write a short story in six words. Rather than telling a story about shoes, this is more "meta" by referencing itself and being a self-fulfilling (or self-defeating) prophecy. (The sequel was titled "Don't bother reading my other stories").
  • "For Sale: Baby shoes (-1) [Cursed]": This is written like a description of a virtual item typically found in Roguelike games or MMOs. "-1" and "Cursed" are attributes of the item, which usually produce negative consequences that reduce its wearer's stats or abilities.
  • "<Blink><Marquee>Baby shoes!</Marquee></Blink>": This is reminiscent of the style of HTML widely used in the 1990s. Both the <Blink> and <Marquee> tags make the text content ("Baby shoes!") appear more prominent and attention-grabbing. The normally invisible-and-rendered tag elements can be seen and are part of the six words count. This could have been due to 'sanitising' of uploaded text where HTML tags (other than any that are specifically allowed, like it appears Strikethrough formatting might be) are deliberately deactivated by the server. An interesting note: When this comic was first posted to xkcd.com, the '/' in the </Blink> tag was missing. This was fixed between the 19th and 20th of June, 2015, showing that this was, indeed, unintentional.
  • "For Sale: Baby-sized saddle, bobcat": This is a reference to 325: A-Minus-Minus in which Cueball says: 'Instead of office chair, package contained bobcat'. The 'Baby-sized saddle', a very small saddle, is an item only usable if one was to try to ride a small animal such as a bobcat, and was a baby.
  • "Hemingway busted for Craigslist shoe scam": This is written like a news headline where Hemingway supposedly wrote about shoes in order to perpetrate a scam. Craigslist is a website where users can advertise and seek goods and services.

The title text continues the reference to 325: A-Minus-Minus, but inverts the situation. Rather than unexpectedly receiving a bobcat by package, this time the package contains a regular item instead of the expected bobcat.


[Caption above comic]
Hemingway's Rough Drafts
[A list of rough draft stories]
For sale: This Gullible Baby's Shoes
Baby Shoes For Sale By Owner
Actually, There's no evidence Hemingway wrote
Free Shoes, Provided You Overpower Baby
For Sale: Weird Baby's Toe Shoes
For Sale: Baby Shoes Prime eligible
Though popularly attributed to Hemingway, the
This Weird Trick Covers Baby Feet!
For Sale: Baby Shoes, Just Hatched
Sale: Seven-League Boots (Expedited Shipping)
Complete this survey for free shoes!
Shoes, by Ernest Hemingway [citation needed]
This is my greatest short story.
For sale: Baby shoes (-1) [cursed]
<blink><marquee>Baby Shoes!</marquee></blink>
For Sale: Baby-sized Saddle, Bobcat
Hemingway Busted for Craigslist Shoe Scam

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Did Randall miss the slash before the second blink? Or is there a More Profound Meaning. Possibly higher chance of typos when publication is late (deadline struggle?). Jkrstrt (talk) 14:07, 19 June 2015 (UTC)

Wow, you're right! The Twenty-second. The Not So Only. The Nathan/Nk22 (talk) 14:08, 19 June 2015 (UTC)
Perhaps that is the error which causes the HTML tags to be visible text? 15:30, 19 June 2015 (UTC)
Unlikely. The opening tag turns on the effect for all the text that follows until a closing tag is found. No closing tag, and the effect doesn't stop. - Equinox 16:32, 19 June 2015 (UTC)
Randall actually fixed it today! Somebody who knows how to properly edit this wiki should update the picture and description. EDIT: I already fixed the description, now it's only the picture. 10:09, 20 June 2015 (UTC)
Picture update is done but the old one is still in the cloud cache. So wait a while until it will be shown. --Dgbrt (talk) 16:08, 20 June 2015 (UTC)
After a couple of hours I now can see the change. Look at the timestamps of this and my former post!!! And my BOT is also affected by this damn cloud cache, others can see updates before I can... --Dgbrt (talk) 18:33, 20 June 2015 (UTC)

I think (-1) [cursed] may be a reference to the card game Dominion? 17:51, 19 June 2015 (UTC)

  • Actually this is more likely a reference to a cursed item in an RPG (DnD, WoW, etc.), where a cursed item often gives a negative stat bonus instead of a positive one. A magic item might be indicated as Magic Hammer (+2). Veleek (talk) 18:12, 19 June 2015 (UTC)

It is from a rogue like game. 18:41, 19 June 2015 (UTC)

Why is there a bit about HTML sanitization? It's in an image file.. 18:56, 19 June 2015 (UTC)

The effect of the marquee tag is to create an area of scrolling text. So with the blink tag the html would produce a box of text that will scroll from right to left and have a blinking background akin to annoying internet banner ads. So it's not about html sanitation, the html is visible so you can see the word count, it is up to the reader to interpret it as an annoying internet ad. (Source: mozilla documentation). Aide7 (talk) 19:06, 19 June 2015 (UTC)

I hate that I only just learned about the 6-word story on TV Tropes a few days before this comic was posted. I wonder if Randall and I have similar browsing habits. 21:06, 19 June 2015 (UTC)

Explanations of each "story"
  • For sale: This Gullible Baby's Shoes - I don't quite get this one. Maybe it's just not very funny. Anyone?
  • Baby Shoes For Sale By Owner - Funny if one imagines an internet-capable baby posting its own shoes for sale.
  • Actually, There's no evidence Hemingway wrote - A fragment of a preemptive rebuttal to the comic's premise (or at least its title), for some reason.
  • Free Shoes, Provided You Overpower Baby - Funny if one imagines a sufficiently powerful baby, or a sufficiently weak shoe seeker.
  • For Sale: Weird Baby's Toe Shoes - "Toe shoes" like the FiveFingers are weird, even too weird for a weird baby perhaps. Previous distaste for toe shoes is evident in xkcd 1065.
  • For Sale: Baby Shoes (Prime eligible) - This is a pretty good ad; Hemmingway is selling the shoes through Amazon and is willing to deliver them quickly and without additional shipping costs.
  • Though popularly attributed to Hemingway, the - Another fragment of a rebuttal, written in an encyclopedic style.
  • This Weird Trick Covers Baby Feet! - An ad in clickbait style, nobody's going to click on that though.
  • For Sale: Baby Shoes, Just Hatched - Funny if one imagines shoes as living creatures that lay eggs, from which baby shoes hatch.
  • Sale: Seven-League Boots (Expedited Shipping) - These are magic boots that allow one to walk seven leagues (about 3 miles) with each step. Presumably they'll be delivered by someone wearing the boots.
  • Complete this survey for free shoes! - Another clickbait type ad.
  • Shoes, by Ernest Hemingway [citation needed] - Another reference, wikipedia-style, to the dubious authorship of the original short story.
  • This is my greatest short story. - Self-referential meta-fiction, somewhat reminiscent of Randall's proposed autobiography of Douglas Hofstadter in xkcd 917.
  • For sale: Baby shoes (-1) [cursed] - The shoes are described in the manner of armor in Roguelike games. These particular shoes will reduce the wearer's protection by one point and cannot be removed.
  • <blink><marquee>Baby Shoes!</marquee><blink> - An ad in old-school annoying HTML style.
  • For Sale: Baby-sized Saddle, Bobcat - Hemmingway is choosing to falsely advertise mere baby shoes as a rather more exciting means of locomotion. Is this wise?
  • Hemingway Busted for Craigslist Shoe Scam - I guess not, he got caught for lying in his ad.
  • (hover text) Instead of bobcat, package contained chair - A reference to xkcd 325, this indicates that either Hemmingway is now running a new scam (or just "making the world a weirder place"? or a less weird place?) by advertising bobcats and mailing chairs. 21:14, 19 June 2015 (UTC)

The current version of the comic has a correctly nested set of tags. __rvx 09:05, 20 June 2015 (UTC)

On first read, I though this is what search engine returns when searching for that short novel. Then I noticed the heading. -- Hkmaly (talk) 14:35, 21 June 2015 (UTC)

I just added the reference to Hemingway's practice of obsessively re-drafting his novels; but I'm not sure the explanation captures the humour in this allusion. -- Vespertine (talk) 05:01, 22 June 2015 (UTC)

See also SMBC 3582 04:00, 1 July 2015 (UTC)

Please reinsert what was deleted on [1], because of an edit conflict. I added some of the deleted information. Xhfz (talk) 13:29, 23 July 2015 (UTC)

I find it extremely unlikely that "toe shoes" is meant to refer to pointe shoes, both because pointe shoes do not go by that name and because it would be inconsistent with what Randall has previously referred to as "toe shoes". I have edited accordingly. (Dear anyone whose dialect refers to pointe shoes as toe shoes, where are you from? I'm curious.) 23:59, 20 December 2015 (UTC)