GNU Terry Pratchett

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Terry Pratchett sadly passed away in March 2015. The phrase “GNU Terry Pratchett” has become a term used by fans to mourn and memorialise him. As well as being written by fans in messages, it has also been embedded in the infrastructure of the internet as a tribute, inspired by its origins in Going Postal.


“GNU” comes from the Discworld novel Going Postal. While it’s also a reference to real world computing history, in the context of the Discworld it's a prefix code used in the “Overhead” of Clacks messages, the part reserved for information used by the system itself (or its operators), rather than the part that includes customers’ coded messages. The code consists of three parts:

  • G: Send the message onto the next Clacks Tower.
  • N: Do not log the message.
  • U: At the end of the line, return the message.

It's most prominent use is in chapter four of Going Postal, where operatives in Tower 181 of the Grand Trunk discuss the phrase “GNU John Dearheart”. The message was sent after John's death, and is continuously sent up and down the Clacks network as a tribute, conferring a kind of immortality. As the character Grandad says at the end of the chapter, “A man’s not dead while his name is still spoken.”

In a post on the website Reddit, under the subreddit r/discworld, several fans came up with the idea to create a website plugin or text that could be hidden in the code or headers of websites. The most prominent example is “X-Clacks-Overhead”, a non-standard HTTP header - essentially the world wide web's equivalent of the Clacks’ “Overhead”.

Several websites such as and list the myriad plugins and other methods for adding this message to websites, servers and scripts.


The videogame Minecraft features randomised splash text on the game's title screen, which can sometimes read “GNU Terry Pratchett”. This is listed as Splash 338; it was added in the update to Java Edition 1.8.5.

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