And '\r' is the carriage return, even though your computer might not have a carriage that returns.

I know that he is trying to play with the words. Does anyone know what exactly the author means by "a carriage that returns"?

  • 5
    The "carriage return" character has that name because it refers to a command to return the (print) carriage to the beginning of the line.
    – nohat
    Jul 29, 2011 at 17:02
  • i know that. i mean i don't understand the joke the author is trying at the second part. what's a carriage that does not return?
    – Pacerier
    Jul 29, 2011 at 17:06
  • 15
    Dear Pacerier, among your most recent questions a large number have been closed as inappropriate for this site. This one, for example, is probably considered a general reference: if you look up “carriage return”, you will get exactly the explanation of what a carriage return is, and where the term comes from (“the carriage that returns”). Please try to think twice before asking questions, so they might fit better within the framework in which this site operates. Thanks!
    – F'x
    Jul 29, 2011 at 17:09
  • 4
    His joke is that you probably don't have a carriage at all, but that doohickey is still known as a carriage return.
    – GEdgar
    Jul 29, 2011 at 17:09
  • 7
    @Pacerier, the joke is not about having a carriage that does not return, but rather about not having a carriage that returns.
    – nohat
    Jul 29, 2011 at 17:27

7 Answers 7


From Penguin Pete's Blog


You'd start a new paragraph by feeding in the paper and then - with your left hand - shoving the carriage (the part on top that has the paper) all the way to the right so the keys will be hitting the spot on the far left first. Then as you typed, the carriage would advance one space at a time. When it got all the way to the right (usually it went "ding!"), you'd have to push that carriage back again, and if you didn't also hit the line-feed lever, you'd start typing over the same line. So the line-feed lever is right there, mounted in the same spot you'd use to push the carriage back anyway, and you could combine both motions.

  • 8
    "When it got all the way to the right (usually it went 'ding!')" It does not go ding when it gets to the right. It goes ding wherever you set the margin, which is typically an inch-and-a-half from the right. Jul 29, 2011 at 18:12
  • 3
    @Malvolio - Right. The ding is a warning that you are almost out of space, and had better not start a really long word (important for touch-typists who are usually looking at the source material, not the typewriter). It is sort of like the trace rounds in the bottom of an automatic weapon clip, or the red stripe near the end of a roll of receipt paper.
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 29, 2011 at 18:20
  • 2
    good lord, I remember the pain in my fingers from typing on these beasts in highschool...typing 'a' was like lifting pinky weights
    – kekekela
    Jul 29, 2011 at 19:55
  • There's a good reason for the popularity of the term "pounding on the Underwood" among professional writers; it used to be quite literal.
    – KeithS
    Jul 29, 2011 at 20:20

In the olden days, people used typewriters. The device that carried the paper was called the carriage, and there was a key that returned the carriage to the left right and fed the paper up one line so that a person could type continuously without having to reset the page when one line was finished.

This is also the reason why the "Enter" key is still sometimes referred to as the "Return" key, and why it has that little arrow that points to the left.

  • In the very olden days, the return key was not a key but a lever. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Underwoodfive.jpg
    – CesarGon
    Jul 29, 2011 at 17:27
  • @CesarGon Yes, true, and there are some nice pictures in the other answers. I wanted to make the connection to other legacy terms though. Thanks!
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jul 29, 2011 at 17:42
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    I want to point out the the Return key, if you are entering free text, returns the text cursor to the left-most column, which explains both its name and its icon. @CesarGon -- be careful with your definition of "very old", a lot of us learned on manuals, or on electrics with manual returns. Jul 29, 2011 at 19:38
  • @CesarGon: Hey, I'm not that old! I'm 24, and we used manual typewriters when I was in elementary school. Back then home-computers had gained in popularity, but the schools could still not afford one for every student in a class. Jul 29, 2011 at 21:29
  • @Malvolio, BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft: Sorry guys, no offence intended. I was just playing on the original answer use of "olden days" (which I found funny) and taking it further back in time. My niece is 9 and she loves my manual typewriter.
    – CesarGon
    Jul 30, 2011 at 13:27

A carriage is a "moving part of a machine that carries other parts into the required position," such as a "typewriter carriage."

The "carriage return" character is called so because it's a new line character, and in a typewriter, to go to a new line the carriage is moved (returned) to the beginning of the line.

The part to understand in the joke is "your computer might not have a carriage." Effectively, in a computer, there is no part called carriage.


To elaborate on my answer to a related question:

A carriage is the part of a typewriter that controls where on the page the next character will appear.

It will move the page a long with each character typed.

To get the carriage back to the right (or left, if you write from the right) a carriage return is performed.

For more information on typewriters, see this Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typewriter

So on computers, that use control characters (different combinations on different operating systems, but always involving \r or \n) to control where the next character will appear, there is no carriage to return, the cursor movement is controlled by software and electronics.

So what is meant by

even though your computer might not have a carriage that returns

is that computers do not have the mechanical part called a carriage, but they still do carriage returns.

  • i mean i don't understand the joke the author is trying at the second part. what's a carriage that does not return?
    – Pacerier
    Jul 29, 2011 at 17:07
  • A computer doesn't have any carriage; therefore, it doesn't have a carriage that returns.
    – apaderno
    Jul 29, 2011 at 17:09
  • The author never speaks of a carriage that does not return. He's just saying that your computer does not have a carriage. He adds that returns just to complete the pun.
    – nico
    Jul 29, 2011 at 17:10
  • @Pacerier: I have updated my answer. Jul 29, 2011 at 17:18

enter image description here

The carriage on a typewriter is basically the entire assembly that holds the paper.

(See comment below)

In an automatic typewriter it moves to the left as you type. (See other answers.)

When your author says:

And '\r' is the carriage return, even though your computer might not have a carriage that returns.

They're making reference to the fact that modern word processors don't physically have carriages, though they have the same functionality simulated in software.

  • 3
    The carriage is not the cylindrical thing on the top that holds the paper! The cylindrical thing is called a "platen" (or just a "roller"). The carriage is the whole mechanism, including the platen, the return lever (at the left), the knows, the guides, and various wheels, rails, and gearing to make the whole thing work. Nice picture though. Jul 29, 2011 at 18:11

In my own words I'll say this: Typewriters have carriages and there's a key that when pressed, returns the carriage to the start of a new line so you can continue your typing but on a new line.

With the development of computers -which are meant to make the typing process more efficient -there was not the need to remove this slogan or ... It had to be maintained for what I'll call backward compatibility -referring to our old typists; that's why the key settings were not much changed except that it's now electronic. So, with an electronic system without any mechanical 'carriage', that yet does the same carriage returning flips, the phrase was not discarded.

  • This, in my opinion, takes what could be considered the price for, as what I will call it, the most convoluted answer I think I have, in the time I have perused the pages of this internet web site, read here so far...
    – mplungjan
    Jul 31, 2011 at 5:37

The carriage is a moving part on a typewriter that carries the paper. When one letter is typed on the paper, it moves together with the paper to the left so that your next letter will hit the position right to it. When you want to have a new line, the carriage "returns" to the rightmost position so that your letter will hit the leftmost of the paper. It's a little difficult to explain this using words. This video shows it all: What is CRLF? Carriage Return? (this link starts from the exact position where the carriage returns, you only have to watch about a few seconds to understand it).

  • 3
    While this link may answer the question, it is better to include the essential parts of the answer here and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes. - From Review Jan 1, 2022 at 1:05
  • Thanks for the comment. I revised my answer.
    – Why Why
    Jan 2, 2022 at 2:15
  • +1 for making the effort to improve your original answer.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 2, 2022 at 3:11

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