1787: Voice Commands

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Voice Commands
Dvorak words may sound hard to pronounce, but studies show they actually put less stress on the vocal cords.
Title text: Dvorak words may sound hard to pronounce, but studies show they actually put less stress on the vocal cords.


In this comic Cueball has shown Ponytail something relevant to her on his smartphone and she asks if he can send it to her. He agrees but then says something completely incomprehensible to Ponytail, but obviously his phone understands and sends the message with a beep.

The caption explains that he was speaking as though he was using a QWERTY keyboard layout and writing as it was a Dvorak Simplified Keyboard. In other words, Cueball is saying keys on a Dvorak keyboard and the phone is receiving the spaces on a QWERTY keyboard that each of Cueball's Dvorak letters uses. Cueball can be sure that nobody else will be able to use voice commands on his phone.

The sentence Cueball tells his phone translates to "Okay Google send a text" - he says it as if he were typing the sentence on a Dvorak layout with the keyboard set to a QWERTY layout. How such words would be pronounced is a mystery, as the letters in the words are merely substituted with others with no regard to phonetics; without standardized pronunciations, a speech-to-text program would be useless. To add to the confusion, one of the words in Cueball's sentence includes a semi-colon as one of its letters despite the fact that semi-colons are punctuation rather than phonemes, which only complicates the pronunciation further.

The title text is a reference to the fact that many users of Dvorak keyboards claim they may be hard to learn, but they are more movement efficient and put less stress on your fingers due to less movement. This makes little sense in the scenario set up by the comic, as speaking gibberish using oddly placed vowels would be equally difficult, if not in fact harder, on the vocal cords.[citation needed]


[Ponytail is looking at Cueball facing her direction, and he looks down at the smartphone he is holding in his hand.]
Ponytail: Can you text it to me?
Cueball: Sure!
Cueball: Svat ussupd ;dlh a kdbk
Ponytail: ...What?
Phone: *Beep*
[Caption under the panel:]
Setting my phone's speech recognition to Dvorak was a pain at first, but it's more efficient in the long run.


  • Using a Dvorak keyboard layout on a smartphone (for actual typing, not voice commands) is possible, but the very features that make it desirable in a physical touch-typing environment are drawbacks on a swipe-enabled keyboard. A placement designed to alternate a typist's left and right hands requires the finger of a swipist to travel back and forth across the keyboard more often. Fitting commonly-used letters onto the typist's home row reduces finger movement but makes many words the swipist enters indistinguishable. On a QWERTY swipe keyboard, four English words can be entered by swiping right to left from P to T: "pot", "pit", "put", and "pout"; however, setting the layout to Dvorak causes this to happen with many more common sets of words. For example, swiping right to left from S to O, and left to right from O to T could be any of: "soot", "snot", "snout", "stout", "shot", "shoot", and "shout", because the commonly-used letters N, T, H, and U lie on the homerow in the path of travel. Poor aim, like overshooting the O to hit E before turning around, adds a whole other set of words to confuse the spell-checker further.

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http://wbic16.xedoloh.com/dvorak.html converts "svat ussupd ;dlh a kdbk" to "okay google send a text"-- 16:38, 18 January 2017 (UTC)

Well that's a much easier way of converting it than my method of looking at two keyboards. 16:42, 18 January 2017 (UTC)
I think that's just for US keyboards. I get different results trying that on a UK QWERTY keyboard Jdluk (talk) 16:56, 18 January 2017 (UTC)
There are multiple different dvorak keyboards. welp I Donthaveusername (talk) 17:51, 6 October 2020 (UTC)
The opposite way of typing QWERTY on Dvorak gives the even less pronounceable "RTAF IRRIN. O.BE A Y.QY". –TisTheAlmondTavern, 12:38, 19 January 2017 (UTC)

The QWERTY layout is to slow typists down is an enduring myth. In the early days there were typing competitions (with big prizes) to find the fastest typist and fastest machine. This was won by QWERTY in the English world and AZERTY in the French one. Other languages may vary.

The avoid a clash reason (as users of manual machines know) is shown up by the common Left Right Left sequence of "the" and the many letter pairs in English of "er" which are adjacent left fingers and often caused me jams!

Other layouts and designs may have benefits, but will never become the default - a bit like Esperanto methinks ;-) RIIW - Ponder it (talk) 18:31, 18 January 2017 (UTC)

"In the early days" typewriters would jam easily, so of course a layout that for the most part avoided that would be fastest way back then. Just because the layout still had jamming problems doesn't mean it wouldn't come out on top. Touchtyping (a more recent development than QWERTY) makes QWERTY uncomfortable to use at speed, but the pretty much random nature of the layout makes life easier for spell checking software (a more recent development than Dvorak) than Dvorak. 23:43, 18 January 2017 (UTC)
  • It's not really a contradiction. The QWERTY layout was not to slow down typists exactly, but to reduce the likelihood of a typist hitting two adjacent keys in quick succession, since this is what caused jams. To do this, it placed letters that are frequently found next to each other in different parts of the keyboard. However, this is also more efficient, because it causes the typist to frequently switch hands with each key press, giving the unused hand a chance to move into position for the next key, and makes typos less frequent. Try to quickly type "western" (mostly the left hand) and then try to quickly type "landing" (alternating hands). -- IndigoFenix (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I have only typed Dvorak since 1991, currently on a TypeMatrix 2030DV. Since I have pretty much forgotten Qwerty, I had to look at my wife's laptop to find the letters. Back and forth looking at the comic, it took me a minute to translate that in Notepad.  ;-) I can do about 90 wpm in DV. Friends don't let friends type Qwerty! TrueFalcon (talk) 17:10, 18 January 2017 (UTC)

  • Dvorak? pfft. I use butterflies 23:52, 18 January 2017 (UTC)
  • As a fellow Dvorak user, I think comments like these are the reason we keep getting comics about us. 18:03, 18 January 2017 (UTC)
    • I can practically guarantee it. Especially since actual studies on the subject suggest it's more ability and practice that improve typing speed rather than what layout is used. --KingStarscream (talk) 20:16, 18 January 2017 (UTC)
    • Case in point: I wasn't born until 1988 so I have less experience than OP, but I type about 100 WPM in QWERTY. What does that say about Dvorak? --PsyMar (talk) 03:06, 20 January 2017 (UTC)
    • Yeah, I hit roughly 80 or 85 at my best in Dvorak, but it's only because I couldn't type Qwerty at all. I switched so I would have to stop looking at the keys when I typed, and that's the only benefit it's ever actually afforded me, aside from potentially averting some wrist strain when I write a lot in short time periods. 13:28, 20 January 2017 (UTC)
    • My dad could type as fast as he could think the words, and he used QWERTY. At that point, you can't improve on your typing speed. Finger strain might be relevant, but you can't type words faster than you can think them. 03:47, 14 February 2019 (UTC)

The hovertext should say "vocal cords," right? Not "chords"? 18:20, 18 January 2017 (UTC)

I've heard there are people who can sing more than one note at a time - a real vocal chord. 23:47, 18 January 2017 (UTC)
I suppose it might be a deliberate error, but, yes, "vocal chords" is incorrect: it should be "vocal cords" (i.e. strings), or even more correctly vocal folds. 09:27, 19 January 2017 (UTC)
A stenograph (as used by a court stenographer) is a keyboard where one presses several keys at a time, called a chord, so I think the hover text 'vocal chord' is a play on the idea of vocalising several 'keys' at once -- 13:01, 19 January 2017 (UTC)
The OED lists "chord" as a variant of "cord" for anatomical purposes. Both are allowable and neither is unusual. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/chord 18:48, 20 January 2017 (UTC)

The layout was intended to reduce jams, and was likely a trial and error process in development. The layout does in effect slow down the people of the day some, as for instance so many words are typed by left hand only, but this is likely unintentional. Notice that keys like the "I" and "O" are "together", but in fact are separated by three other key linkages, "K""," and "9", so pressing those didn't cause a jam as frequently when pressed in rapid succession, but nevertheless would have been faster had they been on opposite sides of the keyboard. Another point is that keyboarding was still visual at the time, so this keyboard mechanism never took into account the touch typing method that was developed a decade or so later. 19:27, 18 January 2017 (UTC)

Is this an appropriate time to mention the advantages of MessageEase? No? Nevermind then. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I enjoyed MessageEase until I discovered Multiling O. It’s much more customizable. 22:33, 19 January 2017 (UTC)

Bah. Everyone knows saying it in the original Klingon is much more efficient. -- 14:18, 19 January 2017 (UTC)

Can we remove that last paragraph? It seems irrelevant to the explanation - as do a few other interludes that seem to only contribute to the opinions of the authors. 14:55, 19 January 2017 (UTC)

It would be safer to say which paragraph you mean, or multiple people might follow your suggestion and remove multiple paragraphs --OliReading (talk) 00:18, 20 January 2017 (UTC)

Please don't use the abomination "substituted with." That's what people used when they can't decide whether A is substituted for B or replaced with B, so they split the difference. Gmcgath (talk) 12:35, 20 January 2017 (UTC)

Please don't use the abomination "replaced with". That's just a childish way to hide the reality that when A is replaced by B, that means Mommy and Daddy aren't with each other any more. Speaking of children, I'm going to justify my looking down on you by assuming that you would be among the rude and heathen barbarians who would refuse to borrow me a pencil in gradeschool because you were worried I might use up the eraser. /s In my dialect (that which uses "substituted with"), your hated phrase comes out of the fact that substituted and replaced don't have fully-interchangeable implications. A substitute teacher substitutes the old one not by replacing them, but simply by making up for their absence; and after you replace a broken part on a car, that broken part pretty rarely ever gets substituted back into its original position. Substitution is more often used for temporary arrangements where replacement is more often used for final ones; this lends "substitute" the semantic fluidity of being able to reverse in meaning through association with "by" instead of "for". I would argue that this is a feature of other dialects as well (or does a substituted for / substituted by dichotomy truly seem abominable to you, and if so, is it to the same degree as a hypothetical replaced for / replaced by dichotomy?). With (I believe) "A is substituted for B" clearly marking times when A enters B's old context and "A is substituted by B" clearly marking times when B enters A's old context, my dialect simply adds "A is substituted with B" as a synonym for the "by" form (since teachers would interpret the word "by" as passive voice, and everyone else would interpret the word "by" as marking an accusational mood, neither of which are considered appropriate in formal writing in my culture).SvenTheBold (talk) 12:21, 22 January 2017 (UTC)

After reading several XKCD comics where Randall tears into Dvorak, it's become obvious that he really isn't making a rational argument but an emotional one. Dvorak makes a whole lot of sense for writing English words, and relearning a keyboard layout is within the abilities of most people. I'm not sure why a respected guy like Randall has to make fun of us; that said, his comic not mine. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

It should be OK to make fun of almost anything. Especially religious people like those worshiping Lord Dvorak :-) But great if the keyboard works for you, but according to research there seems to be no advantage of typing in Dvorak as mentioned in the category about that layout. --Kynde (talk) 10:30, 3 March 2017 (UTC)

Nobody talks by using a keyboard layout! An "A" is an "A" regardless which type of keyboard I'm using. But Cueball talks in Dvorak encoding with NO keyboard directly involved. Furthermore the layout here is still really bad. --Dgbrt (talk) 19:39, 4 March 2017 (UTC)

"A" was a poor example, since it is one of only two keys which are in the same position on both Dvorak and Qwerty. ;-)