I began composing the following essay sometime around July 5th of last year. I let the project drop as it was taking up all of my time, and I was having some trouble completing it satisfactorily. It has come to my attention that, yet again, someone has pushed another article on the subject with little information. I figured that I might as well return to the topic now, finish up the article and get it over with once and for all. If you can make it through this whole thing, I hope you enjoy the ride.

Don’t lie. You know what I’m talking about. Unless you don’t, in which case you are not one of us, and are instead probably a member of the Pen club. The fifteenth member, I’d guess.

This generic little 14-line shape was drawn by countless children in the days of my youth, and likely in the days of your youth as well. But for many of us, the question of “why” was superceded by the gained ability of drawing this cool-looking thing (and, for many, the coolness derived from teaching other kids how to do it). Yet, as humans grow older, we tend to look back on our childhoods and wonder why we liked this thing or that thing and why we spent so much time on trivial shit like this. Now, with our lives all tangled up in the Internet, we can connect with other people from around the globe and collectively reminisce about said trivial shit. And then we start to notice patterns. Really, really weird patterns. Like how we all drew this s- or 8-shaped thing without really knowing why.

Are you wondering now? Well, so am I. I dedicated a few days to exhaustively scrolling through several Reddit threads, YouTube comments, a forum, and a few blogs, taking each given lead and searching for answers. I’d like to assure you that everything will be cleared up by the end of this essay, but for all the questions it answers, it’s probably just going to raise more that you hadn’t even thought of. What is this mysterious S Thing?

How To Draw It

Before we begin, for the uninitiated, allow me to explain what this is.

First, you draw six lines, like so:

s1

Next, you have to connect these lines to form a letter ‘S’ (or an ‘8’ or chain or what have you).

s2

It’s that simple. A large part of the appeal undoubtedly arises from the simplicity of its design. We’ll get to that later, though. You’ve drawn it, but… what is it?

What Is It?

It’s an ‘S’, obviously. Only a moron would think otherwise. Except for people who see it as an ‘8’, because the line obviously loops around and connects like an ‘8’ would… Or, you know, like a lemniscate, or, more accurately, a Möbius Strip, because only a moron would see this thing as an ‘S’ or an ‘8’ when it is clearly a 2D representation of a one-sided object.

But perhaps it’s an analemma, or a double helix, or a Celtic knot, or the more generic concept of an endless knot? Or maybe it’s just some kind of tribal art?… You know, at this point, it could just be a sweet racecar track.

Or you could extend it and make it into a chain or a border or a bitchin’ sword.

sborder

Or you can use it as the ‘S’ in an equally mysterious, memetic stylized “smile” with a coconut tree ‘I’ or ‘L’.

Or, for the hungry and Scandinavian, it’s a klenät.

klenatSteinninn

These are all answers given by people who grew up drawing this thing. One person even said that some kid told him it was supposed to be a pair of welding goggles. Alternatively, it’s a doodle of… the tightest buttcheeks ever. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that one was a joke.

In the end, the most commonly given answer is that it’s an ‘S’, with “chain/border”, ‘8’, and general “infinity symbol” following closely behind. Please note that these are the most commonly given answers – the amount of people who are familiar with this thing is unquantifiably but undoubtedly incredibly greater than the amount of people who responded to Reddit threads and other fora spanning the last five years. Before we move on to the theories of its origin, there is one more identifying feature to tackle – its name.



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