Dear Straight Dope:
Are the dots on McDonald's drink container lids Braille writing, and, if so, what do they say?
SDStaff Ian replies:
Yes, they’re Braille. Next to the word “DIET” is the Braille word “diet.” One the other side, next to “OTHER” is printed “other.” This makes sense, as even if the soda drinker is blind, the person doing the punching is likely sighted. Of course, while seeing people only need help distinguishing two or three different brown drinks from each other, if Mickey D’s was really being considerate of sightless people, they would also need buttons for the clear and orange drinks as well as shake flavors, yes? Anyway, at least their hearts are in the right place. Now to what’s actually on the lids. The “diet” one seems logical, as it’s four characters, and a quick translation confirms they are in fact d, i, e, and t in Braille. For “other,” however, there are only three characters. What’s up with that? Well, on closer inspection, the first one is the letter “o,” and the last is “r.” The middle one is not actually a letter, but a symbol for the word “the.” The letters, numbers and punctuation are referred to as Grade 1 Braille, but the most common version of Braille used today is Grade 2, consisting of all of Grade 1, plus unique symbols for contractions and commonly used words. Grade 2 Braille was developed to make Braille more efficient, and by most estimates it reduces the amount of paper needed to print in Braille, and the amount of time needed to read it, by about 25%. So, what you have to indicate that your drink is Mr. Pibb is “o,” “the,” “r,” which makes as much sense to a Braille reader as five letters would, and it saves space to boot.
SDStaff Ian, Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
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