Lather, rinse, and repeat

James A. Landau <> JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM
Mon Jan 7 20:06:53 UTC 2013

"Wouldn't It Be Nice If We Could Write Computer Programs In Ordinary English---Or Would It?" by I. D. Hill, UKL Medical Research Council, in _Honeywell Computer Journal_ Vol 6, No 2, 1972

Consider the following from a shampoo bottle:

     For best results wet hair with warm water.  Gently work in the first application.  Rinse thoroughly and repeat.

Repeat from where?  Surely the rule must be that, in the absence of other information, we repeat from the first instruction.  But this means that we have to wet the hair we have just rinsed!  Let us use a little common sense and not bother with that.  But the next instruction refers to the "first application" and we cannot do that again, so perhaps logic tells us to miss that one out too.  So the only thing life to repeat is "rinse thoroughly and repeat" and now we are in a closed loop, and must continue rinsing our hair until aborted.
<end quote>

I have mentioned the above quote in a previous post, but this is the first time I was able to locate the source.

I doubt this is the source of the saying "lather, rinse, and repeat" meaning to engage in a mindless repetitive activity, but it must certainly be an early usage.

     - James A. Landau

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