Back to previous post: Open thread 5

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: The art of Yoshida Hiroshi, 1931

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

September 22, 2003

Go look
Posted by Teresa at 09:13 AM *

LanguageHat wrote an interesting post about Rdiaeng—that meme that’s going around about how

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe. ceehiro.
—plus a number of related subjects. That alone makes it worth going over there. But, oh my word, you should see the discussion that follows it. Gorgeous.
Comments on Go look:
#1 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 09:31 AM:

Tihs eltuilischansaty ecbermad trehoy taht all you need is the fsrit and lsat lteetrs of a wrod to be albe to raed it wkros mcuh of the tmie, but has its laoittimins, eacellipsy wtih lnog wrdos. Can you tlel waht aoboirghapa manes, for eplamxe?

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 10:44 AM:

Enthusiastically, embraced, limitations, agoraphobia.

It isn't as easy to read as normal orthography. That's what made me doubt that supposed research in the first place. It's a long stretch from "words garbled in this fashion are surprisingly easy to decipher" to "order doesn't matter, as long as you have the first and last letters in place." The former is warranted; the latter is not.

There are further limitations. Prefixes and suffixes make words harder to sort out. It's much easier to read long passages made out of short words. And the whole thing only works because we already know the standard forms of the words, and so can automatically correct them when we see them in garbled form.

Reading is easiest when the only thing we have to stop and figure out is the content, not the characters in which it's conveyed.

#3 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 11:03 AM:

And (how) does it relate to the ability some people (like TNH, and me to a lesser extent) have to look at a page of text and see the misspelled word in the middle of it? I've spent far too much of my life getting to the point where most of the time, the Jumble (R) game in the newspaper is a matter of seconds to solve, rather than minutes....


#4 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 11:44 AM:

Ohhhkay. I'm going to blame this on DayQuil. When I read Yonmei's post, the only word that registered as off was "agoraphobia." I didn't realize that the whole post was spelled funny until I read Teresa's first line. Maybe I've spent too long messing with languages where regularized spelling wasn't even a gleam in the scribes' eye.

#5 ::: CN ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 11:56 AM:

Teresa, post a disemvowelled comment on their thread and see what happens. As an experiment.

#6 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 12:43 PM:

They'd read it straight off, same as everyone does here. Disemvowelled text has many of the same characteristics. It's a little harder to read overall, and it does knock out words like "a" and "I", but it doesn't have the same problem with long words. "Agoraphobia" still presents difficulties, though.

Thy'd rd t strght ff, sm s vrn ds hr. Dsmvwlld txt hs mn f th sm chrctrstcs. t's lttl hrdr t rd vrll, nd t ds knck t wrds lk "" nd "", bt t dsn't hv th sm prblm wth lng wrds. "grphb" stll prsnts dffclts, thgh.

#7 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 01:04 PM:

Yeah, I defy anyone to figure out "grphb" sans context.

Glad you like the thread; it does have some remarkably sophisticated analyses along with the "fuckin' rad!" remarks (and a few spams I've had to delete). I'm still not quite sure how it became such a magnet, though.

#8 ::: nina ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 06:41 PM:

A study done a few years ago (by someone, somewhere) seemed to indicate that spelling ability may be a matter of wiring as much as cognition. Apparently, good spellers don't memorize correct letter-combinations but instead match up the written words against a mental library of word-patterns. This ability seems to be inborn; you can develop reasonably good spelling through rote learning but if you don't have the pattern-recognition knack, you'd best give up any dreams of a lucrative and glamorous proofreading career.

Speaking as a state spelling-bee champeen and compulsive proofreader, this makes sense to me. Words either look right or they don't. Plus, how else could anyone master the limitless illogic and inconsistency of English spelling?

I'd fossick about online and find the study but I've been indulging in a bit of deadline-avoidance and now the waters of guilt are washing over the levee of procrastination and I must get back to work now, dammit.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 06:59 PM:

Nina, that matches my experience. I'm one of those. So's Robert Legault. Everyone I know who's that kind of speller had the ability magically show up around the age of seven. I'll bet you've had the experience of turning a page and spotting the typos on the next page before you've consciously focused on the text, much less read it. You may have had the experience of riffling through a set of galley pages and spotting a typo going past at a speed that ought to be too fast to read at all.

My peripheral vision knows how to spell, even when my full concentration is focused on something else. I get this little buggy something's wrong feeling, and have to scan outward until I spot the error.

There are a lot of merely-good spellers out there who've put a lot of work into learning words. They're okay, but they're not the real thing. Used to be, when I'd get people phoning who wanted to work for me as freelance proofreaders, I'd listen to their initial spiel. As soon as they paused to draw breath, I'd say "Spell accommodate." If they spelled it wrong, I'd know one thing about them. If they said they weren't sure but would know to look it up, I'd know something else.

Words are spelled the way they're spelled because that's the way they're spelled.

I am, to this day, indignant at a system that used me as a stick to beat kids who couldn't spell if their lives depended on it.

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 07:10 PM:

LanguageHat, that meme's been going around, and a lot of people have wanted to talk about it. They've effectively had their choice of venues in which to discuss it. If I were going to guess why so many of the brighter lights wound up talking about it in your weblog, it would be because they had faith that you'd understand the whole of it, and that other people who were in the habit of reading your weblog would likely understand it as well. I don't know whether "marginal intellectual congeniality" is the right concept here, but it's how I'm thinking about it.

#11 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 07:31 PM:

T, would you know something else about the person if they said "Hang on for a second while I write it down"? I know my spelling kink is specifically visual (with some kinesthetic included). I don't have a quick transform to verbal built in.

#12 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 08:20 PM:

They never asked permission, but sometimes I could hear them scribbling or typing. And yes, that was another kind of info.

#13 ::: Berni ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 08:31 PM:

And then there's the "it looks funny in handwriting because I've always seen the word printed" feeling. It may be spelled correctly, but it just seems a little wrong.

#14 ::: Toni ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 08:40 PM:

I'm a "write it down" speller as well. And I don't recall the age at which I knew I had a knack for spelling (with the obvious exception of the word dammit, ahem). But it was pretty young. I'd attributed it to reading so much as a child, but later learned it was a function of memory. It really does feel like an innate skill. If anyone comes across a good article on this, as introduced by Nina, I'd love to read it (I'll do the same should I stumble across a good link).


#15 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 09:00 PM:

I'm an excellent speller. I virtually never err (unless drunk). But my grammar gene, while better than decent, isn't quite as sharp; there are things that don't come naturally to me about English grammar.


#16 ::: Stephanie Zvan ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 10:20 PM:

I had a dyslexic boyfriend at one point. It didn't fully dawn on me what that meant until the day we both read some shaggy dog story in a magazine, the payoff of which required unscrambling a phrase. The fact that he got furious over the fact that I could read it and he couldn't told me something else, but that's another set of stories.

Interestingly, his spelling tended to be pretty good if he was motivated. He spelled by successive approximation, changing his words until they looked right. He did tend to make spell checker type errors, though.

I tend to combine reading a sentence or so at a time with that "there's something wrong here" feeling, which means I spend a lot of time reading right over (and over) the top of problems I know are there.

#17 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2003, 10:35 PM:

I usually can spell off the top of my head, but for some words, especially words with double letters (such as "accommodate" or "Cincinnati"), I might want to write it down, if possible, to be sure. I often do this when patrons call the library about how to spell a word. When in any doubt at all, I grab the dictionary or hurriedly go to one of the online ones.

Does anyone else "see" the word inside their head as they hear, or speak, or think? I've noticed myself doing this since I was in grade school. It's not always the right spelling if it's a word that's new to me or that I only know from hearing it, but my brain tries to read it. (This is akin to words you know from reading but have never heard spoken, so you might pronounce them strangely, I suppose.) I've always wondered if this is related to my learning to read very young (3).

#18 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 03:16 AM:

I'm clearly not a proofreader in your class, Teresa - I cannot fail to notice typos reading down a printed page, but they don't necessarily "leap out at me" - especially not when proofreading my own writing. (I print that out and go through it with care line by line, having learned painfully that I need to pay attention to what I actually typed rather than what I remember I meant to type.) And I could spell accommodate for you no problem - the word I would have to look up or spellcheck (I always, always do) is manoevre. Or do I mean maneuver? Bugger. *reaches for dictionary* Nevertheless, I am a pretty good proofreader. (I pass the menu test, at least.)

#19 ::: Stephanie Zvan ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 08:04 AM:

Lois, it's not just you. Heck, I do enough typing that I sometimes find myself mentally going over the key sequences as I'm thinking something. Doesn't happen when I'm speaking, though. That's social, so it uses up all the tracks in my head.

#20 ::: Sue Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 08:08 AM:

I'm dyslexic, or rather, I'm slightly dyslexic and rather more number blind (can't remember what that's called) but I spell much, much better on the computer, where I touch type, than when writing longhand or if you ask me to spell verbally.
I still have spelling blackspots but my fingers remember how to spell words much better than the rest of me, and that's using a different part of the brain, I remember the pattern and rhythm of words on the key pad, rather than how to spell them.

I still have the annoying habit of transposing, miss hearing and reversing numbers all the time, a pain at work where I take telephone messages and process invoices.

And just don't ask me to tell left from right - the famous cry of the driving instructor "Left, LEFT, no, no, no, your other left!"
Drives my belly dancing teacher nuts too.

#21 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 08:11 AM:

Manoeuvre, maneuver.

Here's how to remember that one; It literally means "hand work", as in the Late Latin manopera. In French that comes out to man-, which is "hand", as in manual and manipulate and mano a mano; and oeuvre, which is "work", as in "the artist's oeuvre." So it comes out manoeuvre, and it still literally means "hand work".

You're being confused by its American relative maneuver, which lost its silent "o", and transposed "re" into "er" by the same logic by which theatre became theater. While this is on the whole a simpler spelling, it lost the visible etymology of manoeuvre that's such a useful telltale.

#22 ::: Elric ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 08:43 AM:

Sue, it's called discalcula, and I know this because my wife has it.

What I've found scary as I've trained my proofreading eye is that I can not only find spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors while scanning blues, but I've found continuity flaws that were ten pages apart.

The mind is a strange thing.

#23 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 09:37 AM:

If asked to spell something unexpectedly, I sometimes catch my fingers moving in the air as if typing on a magic keyboard.

Thanks for the hint on "manoeuvre". When I got the copyedit for The King's Name I realized that in five instances of that word, there were two British spellings, two US spellings, and one that was just plain wrong. Man+oeuvre helps the same way as the thought of "a rat" in separate and the curled ent in perm-an-ent.

#24 ::: nina ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 10:51 AM:

I am, to this day, indignant at a system that used me as a stick to beat kids who couldn't spell if their lives depended on it.

Yes! Yes! So many smart, well-read, accomplished people drag around a burden of secret shame because they're not so hot at spelling. Whenever I encounter such a person, I always mention that pattern-recognition study. And now that I've made my deadline, I have no excuse for not digging up the details.

Like the rest of the poster, I'm definitely a write-it-down speller. A few other things I've noticed about the writing/seeing factor:

95 When I was in grad school, the persistent and promiscuous errors in my freshman-English students' papers wore down my own spelling immune system; I found myself using "it's" for "its," and having to really think about how to spell "weird." Mortifying.

95 Spoken words that I can't visualize 97 very unusual names, or anything beyond my working vocabulary in a foreign language 97 completely flummox me. I've learned to ask for the spelling of the name or the word; otherwise, the sounds just skitter across the surface of my brain and refuse to attach themselves to any kind of meaning.

95 I'm near-sighted, in the glasses-for-movies-and-driving category, and due to a combo of vanity and absent-mindedness, I rarely wear glasses except when in the theater or behind the wheel. Shortly after I moved to NYC, I was walking up Second Avenue when I spotted a restaurant sign across the street: Human Baloney. Disconcerting yet intriguing 97 proof that I wasn't in Kansas anymore! (In the t-shirt-slogan sense; I've never even been to Kansas. An oversight, I assure proud Kansans, not a value judgment.) Upon closer inspection, the restaurant's name turned out to be "Hunan Balcony." But for the rest of the day (and, off and on, through the years since), I thought about that chimerical restaurant called Human Baloney. How is it decorated? What does it serve? Is it filled with self-consciously depraved downtowners? Does Page Six cover the antics of nubile hotties canoodling on its banquettes? Could it become the next McDonalds? Myopic dada such as "Human Baloney" has turned out to be one of the enduring, if minor, pleasures of living in New York.

The mind is a strange thing.


#25 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 10:51 AM:

The way to remember "separate" is that it's from the same root as "parity".

#26 ::: nina ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 10:52 AM:


"Like the rest of the posters..."

Too much coffee, or not enough?

#27 ::: catie murphy ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 01:02 PM:

Perm-an-ent! Curly ents! I'll have to remember that! Thanks, Jo! (I always spell 'permanent' incorrectly, and I know it, and I recently learned to spell it correctly, but now I suffer from eternal uncertainty because I know I always spell it wrong and so even if I think I've got it right it must be wrong...)

I'm a write-it-down speller, too. In fact, rather bizarrely, I had a wonderful dream last night that I'd learned to spell words without writing them down first. I have no idea why people were asking me to spell the several words that they were asking me, because I wasn't in a spelling bee, but /I could do it/! Very disappointing to wake up and find it was only a dream. :)

#28 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 01:06 PM:

Gee, I was thinking it's kinda fun to be up on that poster with the folks here (perhaps not the picture from Laurie Edison's new book FAMILIAR MEN, but still...).

It's a truism that nobody can poorfread their own work (fannish typo inserted to catch the unwary). Yonmei, don't worry about it -- find another born typo-spotter to check your to-be-published text. In this venue, I rely on the kindness of strangers, most of whom will recognize that erudition is incomplete and conditional....


#29 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 03:32 PM:

the persistent and promiscuous errors in my freshman-English students' papers wore down my own spelling immune system

This is one of the main reasons I didn't stay on in Taiwan for another term at the college where I was teaching. I didn't much like teaching, but the food was fantastic, and I might have succumbed... but I was starting to lose my sense of the finer points of English, and it terrified me. (When I first showed up on campus, other teachers would shuffle up to me and ask "Uh, which is correct, X or Y?" and I'd tell them, thinking "Who let you teach English?"; then I discovered the corrosive effects of an immersion in bad English.)

Nina: I absolutely love "Human Baloney," and will think of it every time I pass that place.

#30 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 04:12 PM:

I prefer my spelling reminders when they have something to do with the meaning of the word. Never had any trouble with spelling Mediterranean since a teacher pointed out it means "between the land masses": medi + terra.

(Does breaking words down help with spelling in agglutinative languages?)

I see things like Nina's "Human Baloney" too, and I think for the same reason I tend to miss some typoes. I see the word as a whole rather than breaking it down on sight, I think; but on the other hand I'm terrible with gestalt words. Use a symbol shaped vaguely like a letter in place of that letter, and I'll be completely thrown. The recent fad in computerized abbreviations left me at the station, and I'm still waiting for somebody who can tell me how to pronounce the title of that Cory Doctorow story, "0wnz0red" (a title I had to look up). Or what the heck it means. I read the story, or tried to, and couldn't figure it out; I queried in BoingBoing comments and never got an answer.

#31 ::: Cassandra ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 04:51 PM:

Simon: as far as I can tell (and I don't know too much about this topic) that's a past tense of "owned." It's become a verb among those who play video and computer games: to "own" something or someone is to control it in some way (usually you've just blown it up, and are exulting over the fact).

I'd say to pronounce it like it looks. The 0 is supposed to be an O.

Side comment: thanks for the info about Bookchecks, Mr. Mcdonald.

#32 ::: Jane ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 05:35 PM:

I'm a bad speller, as is my daughter. But my husband and both sons can spell. Gender difference, or errant gene? Living part time in Britain and writing for some British publishers has rendered my spelling of certain words even more problematic. But I can spot my name in an entire page of dense text without half trying. Or a book of mine spine out at a hundred paces.

However, every single time I see a sign in Scotland of something TO LET I read it as "toilet."And I can only read T's disemvowelings with extreme concentration. Can't tell if this all points to a minor case of dyslexia, lazy eye, or too much else to do.l
Who else has read Thurber's book THE WONDERFUL O, which is a fine commentary on this whole subject?


#33 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 07:59 PM:

Or Tom Lehrer's "Silent E".

"Who can make a tub into a tube ...?"

(thanks, Cassandra, I guess. I might have figured out the 0 = O equation if the result had been, like, a word. If that wasn't too much to ask.)

#34 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 11:17 PM:

While in Kenya, I lost, oh, 70% maybe? of my English vocabulary. It was ferociously frustrating, for a couple of years thereafter.

'Course, I did become fluent in Swahili for that time, so there were compensations.

And I lost my Swahili at about the same rate as I regained my English. Weird.

That was the first time I encountered undeniably a severe and unexpected limitation of my intellect. 'Twas a humbling experience.


#35 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2003, 11:27 PM:

Jane: It's been close to forty years, but I certainly remember The Wonderful O -- among other features, that was about the time I started paying attention to orchestral music, and the drawing of the music shorn of most of its musicians (not to mention conductor and podium) was ... interesting....

Must find if it's been reissued before I spend too much on an original -- did that with The Thirteen Clocks and still kick myself.

The meme has been through the local SF club list more than once; I'm glad to see some hard analysis.

#36 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2003, 10:27 AM:

I may actually be able to provide a more complete "0wnz0red" etymology, game forum junkie that I am.

Start with Hacker. The common lamer-speak derivative is "Haxor" (frequently with character substitutions), and a machine, program, and/or site that has been cracked would be called "Haxored."

Parallel the development of "Owned," which in a community of crackers means that a machine, program, or site has been completely compromised and is under the full control of the cracker. This meaning is then extended in gaming communities to one who dominates a game in play, and he who is "Owning" others is described as someone who "Ownz" (again, common character substitutions).

"Haxored" having been established as the past tense meaning of "hack," producing "Ownzored" as the past tense of "Ownz" is internally consistent to the lingo. The newest variant, BTW, is "pwned" and "pwnzored," apparently running off of the same impetus as the vile convention of intentionally spelling "the" as "teh."

I'm one of the spelling gifted that has been under discussion above (right down to the seeing typos on the next page over), and my frequenting some of the...less sophisticated bits of the internet, let's say, has done more harm to my proofreading abilities than you can possibly imagine.

I'm not sure that knowing why gamers talk about "caek" a lot and why "llama" is an insult is a fair trade...

#37 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2003, 11:55 AM:

Sorry, Tom: you misunderstood. I am (was, will be) a technical writer. Technical writers do not get the luxury of handing their well-penned prose over to someone else to check for their own typos: we learn (we have to) to break that damned truism "nobody can proofread their own work" into little bits and dance on it - because no one else will. (Of course, this means that I got to be much better at checking for typos in my own private writing, too: a skill learned for professional reasons is transferable.)

#38 ::: foo ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2003, 11:32 PM:

I'm so pleased to see that other people do the seeing-a-typo-on-the-next-page thing. I find more typos by riffling through pages than I do by carefully reading them. I'd like to echo the request above that if anyone knows a name for this phenomenon, or has more information about that or hyperlexia, please, post.

#39 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2003, 04:51 AM:

Yonmei --

Tech writer myself, among other things. Writing procedures for the Bank of America (Hi Loren!) was a place where I had the problem you mention. And I'm not quite anal enough to believe that I managed to eliminate all the errors in the procedures, but I think I managed to eliminate those that would cause bad interpretations.

Favorite procedure titles: "Preparing for a Tender Offer" and "Preparing for a Tender Offer Expiration".

Still wish I'd used the copy of the corporate seal I found in an abandoned desk to imprint a copy of Crowley's BOOK OF THE LAW -- that would have been a document to make conspiracy theorists have a field day....


#40 ::: Jeremy ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2003, 07:20 AM:

Here's a new twist to the "research" that's doing the rounds...!

Iltnsegnetiry I'm sdutynig tihs crsrootaivnel pnoheenmon at the Dptmnearet of Liuniigctss at Absytrytewh Uivsreitny and my exartrnairdoy doisiervecs waleoetderhlhy cndairotct the picsbeliud fdnngiis rrgdinaeg the rtlvaeie dfuictlify of ialtnstny ttalrisanng sentences. My rsceeerhars deplveeod a cnionevent ctnoiaptorn at hnasoa/tw.nartswdbvweos/utrtek:p./il taht dosnatterems that the hhpsteyios uuiqelny wrtaarns criieltidby if the aoussmpitn that the prreoecandpne of your wrods is not eendetxd is uueniqtolnabse. Aoilegpos for aidnoptg a cdocianorttry vwpiienot but, ttoheliacrley spkeaing, lgitehnneng the words can mnartafucue an iocnuurgons samenttet that is vlrtiauly isbpilechmoenrne.

Or, if you prefer:

Interestingly I'm studying this controversial phenomenon at the Department of Linguistics at Aberystwyth University and my extraordinary discoveries wholeheartedly contradict the publicised findings regarding the relative difficulty of instantly translating sentences. My researchers developed a convenient contraption at that demonstrates that the hypothesis uniquely warrants credibility if the assumption that the preponderance of your words is not extended is unquestionable. Apologies for adopting a contradictory viewpoint but, theoretically speaking, lengthening the words can manufacture an incongruous statement that is virtually incomprehensible.

LOL... it gets worse!

#41 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2003, 09:45 AM:

Jeremy, I could read more than enough of that to comprehend it. Except for the web address, that was a lost cause.

There were a couple of words I couldn't get immediately, but I guessed their context from the surrounding words.

But then I typically don't read every word when I read, so perhaps that makes a difference.

#42 ::: Dorothy Rothschild ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2003, 01:41 PM:

Jane, I hear you. I had been in the UK for nearly a year before I realized (or realised) that the reason I could never remember whether it was spelled traveled or travelled was because it depended on whether I was working in British or American English.

Do you who can spot typos on the fly have the same ability in British English? Or do flavour and shrivelled jump out as wrong, even when they aren't?

I just found another example of this type of skill - while walking through the library, in the 300 section, I had to stop and move back half a shelf because Something Was Not Right. Sure enough, a misshelved book. (And the 300s are nasty - lots and lots of numbers and subcategories.)

#43 ::: Temperance ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2003, 07:00 PM:

I never knew about the study Nina mentions, but I'd like to give myself credit for figuring it out myself. I'm a tech writer too, and used to be an editor and manager, and I quickly learned that some of my people could spell and some couldn't -- which had nothing to do with how good they were as writers. Before Spellcheck, I had one guy who had to look up every single word in the dictionary, every time he turned something in, yet I never had to correct anything of his because he was so conscientious. (Did I spell that right?!!) -- Anyway, I agree with Theresa too: shame on those teachers who punished kids for what they couldn't help!

#44 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2003, 02:36 AM:

Skwid: do share. Why is "llama" an insult? When I hear "llama" I only think of computer gaming creation classic Llamasoft, founded by Jeff Minter*, creator of such classic games as Attack Of The Mutant Camels, Revenge of the MC, Hover Bower (a lawnmowing game!), Mama Llama, Llamatron, and, of course (though not written by him), the unforgettably titled Metagalactic Llamas Battle at the Edge of Time.

And while Mr. Minter has an odd fixation on all kinds of ungulates (Flossy, the Prettiest Sheep in the World?), the games were wonderful. So, why insult?

* This link doesn't seem to work currently, alas.

#45 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2003, 09:30 AM:


Actually, when you mentioned Jeff Minter, I knew instantly whom you were referring to, even though I've never played any of his games. He got some big name press recently, which I caught due to my /. addiction. Since Game Cubes just got cheap, I might actually try his new game...

Anyway, back to the point. The cracker and gamer communities have been (sadly) highly influential on one another, games being probably the most in demand variety of Warez there is. The lingo, as with "ownzored," often cross-pollinates. This is another example. The old cracker jargon for a wannabe, a leech, and a loser was lamer, and "llama" is simply a play off of it's homophonic resemblance to lamer.

"Caek" is a much more germane example for this thread, really. Its resemblance to a typo of "cake" leads to all sorts of constructions as "How do you like your caek?" and "Go eat some caek." The key here, of course, is the visual closeness of the letter "e" to the letter "c."

#46 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2003, 10:56 AM:

Laura J. Mixon said, "While in Kenya, I lost, oh, 70% maybe? of my English vocabulary. It was ferociously frustrating, for a couple of years thereafter. 'Course, I did become fluent in Swahili for that time, so there were compensations. And I lost my Swahili at about the same rate as I regained my English. Weird. That was the first time I encountered undeniably a severe and unexpected limitation of my intellect. 'Twas a humbling experience."

I really wish I weren't a stereotypically monolingual American, but despite spending several years on other languages in school, using them to write things in, reading non-school texts in the language, I never progressed beyond the 'ok, I know all the endings, and that's the root, so I'll look up the word' for anything but the most basic, used-all-the-time vocabulary.

I can follow some of the gist of spoken Spanish, and puzzle out (sometimes very wrongly) written Romance languages, the latter chiefly because the language I spent the most time on in school was classical Latin. The Spanish is because I learned some vocab when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade (and then they changed Spanish teachers and we went from 'Yellow. Dog. Table. Girl. Boy' to 'Alphabet and verbs' and I got completely lost), and because my mom is fluent, and, well, I grew up poorish in the US, which means you run into Spanish more than, say, French or German.

Linguistics fascinates me, especially 'how they work different than us,' but I don't think I'll ever actually be able to converse in some non-English language, however much I might want to.

#47 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2003, 10:59 AM:

Skwid said, "I'm one of the spelling gifted that has been under discussion above (right down to the seeing typos on the next page over), and my frequenting some of the...less sophisticated bits of the internet, let's say, has done more harm to my proofreading abilities than you can possibly imagine."

It bothers me that, when reading, say, Megatokyo, I can unfocus my eyes slightly and read off the l337sp34|

#48 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2003, 11:00 AM:

Whoops. Megatokyo, of course. Link in previous comment is busted.

#49 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2003, 11:04 AM:

... as is, now that I read it, the REST OF MY ENTRY, because I used a pointy-thing-you-use-to-start-HTML-tags to help make my leet K. Sigh. Uhm. I think the rest was something like 'read off the leetspeak without a problem, at full speed. I'm one of those typo-spotting freaks myself, but I think that side of my brain has in fact learned leet as a second language, or set of jargon.'

#50 ::: Elizabeth Margaret ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2003, 01:03 PM:

Laura J. Mixon mentioned losing vocabulary while in Kenya. While in Mexico I knew I was losing vocabulary, but I didn't realize that I had stoped enunciating. When you're only speaking English to your brother you can mumble everything but the verb and the subject and he catches your meaning. Because I was lazy and could get away with it, speach became very telegraphic. That was far more difficult to fix when I returned.

#51 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2003, 02:23 PM:

Ah, yes; I see the Brunching Shuttlecock's Geek Hierarchy has made it into Particles. A classic.

(My friends think they're sooo clever...)

#52 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2003, 04:37 PM:

Geek Hierarchy...

Furry Mary Jane erotic Trek fanfic? That's not for real, is it?

#53 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2003, 05:00 PM:

Oh, bother. I meant to post that to the Open Thread. My apologies, all.

#54 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2003, 06:48 AM:

By going to the Preferences page, you can get Google to display for you in a variety of languages, from French to Latin or Klingon...and also in |337. (Choose "Hacker".)

#55 ::: Vera Nazarian ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2003, 09:42 PM:

Interesting stuff here....

In general I am an excellent speller, but I cannot even verbally spell my own name. I have to write down my name or any other word to spell it, or rather, read it off the page.

When we first came to America and they had us do the verbal spelling bees in 5th grade, I would get kicked out on the very first round. However I would turn in perfect written spelling tests. And when the school psychologist tested me, I spelled every word correctly, including words which I had no idea what they meant and long scientific latin terms.

However I am also slightly dyslexic (and unfortunately type with four fingers) so after I type a paragraph in a hurry, I see no errors. Then I put it down and have to re-read it and fix a gazillion typos. I also am unable to tell right from left (no, the OTHER left!) and numbers do not like me. :-)

#56 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2003, 12:28 PM:

Another example of that "word-untwisting" phenomenon comes in British cryptic crossword puzzles (I'm an addict, and yes some US folks have made them too). Given a frequently oblique, punning definition (now, just WHICH of those words IS the definition?),an anagram turned into other genuine words, and a few letters already in place in the grid, I often find the correct word jumping into my mind without need of shuffling letters around; when this process fails, of course, I have a devil of a time getting the answer! That may be the "word as image" thing. [On the other hand, I memorized the spelling of "Mississippi" as the sounds of the letters when I was a kid, and I still do it that way!] Any other cryptic crossword fans out there in TNH-land?

#57 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2003, 04:28 PM:

Faren -- not really a fan, but I do remember the joy I got helping my father with the Times daily puzzle -- when I got a word he hadn't gotten, I was very happy. Didn't translate into wanting to do it daily, in ink, as he did.... This tends to mean that the 5 and 6 letter reshufflings in the daily Jumble are mostly a matter of a few seconds looking, with the occasional minute-to-5 required to brute-force the answer. Now, if you want really perverted crosswords, the ones from the Listener in its heyday are just plain perverse....


#58 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2003, 07:37 PM:

Faren_I've gotten to be quite a fan of British cryptic puzzles, specifically the London Times puzzle, which is reprinted in the New York Post (since Rupert owns both). They are hard, though...I started doing them because I have a book about Bletchley park, the WW2 cryptography HQ; their employment test was one of those puzzles. The ones who did it fast got the job. They reproduce the actual puzzle in the book, and I've avoided looking at it until I feel more confident about those puzzles in general. I have a real love-hate realtionship with Britcrypt puzzles, though, because they're such great time-wasters.
Spelling...where to begin? I'm a good speller. It's definitely visual. But I go on a word-by-word basis--I have little tricks for the difficult words. Many people who are good spellers are not excellent spellers, and mix up tricky homonyms (leach/leech, pore/pour, etc.). It's difficult to train a poor speller to be a good one, I think, but a good speller can learn to be an excellent one.
The visual quality is I think what makes it easy to spot certain typos--though more errors of commission than of omission. If I see "teh" out of the corner of my eye, I'd quite likely notice it was wrong; but if I saw "from the halls Montezuma" I might not...
I've been in a foreign country long enough for it to do funny things to my English--but only my spoken English. I would once in a while say a Spanish phrase for an English one. But I feel like English is too hard-wired for me to experience anything more than a minor, temporary loss of speaking ability--whcih would immediately come raoring back with a vengeance whenever I met a fellow Anglophone...
Jo, the "Human Balcony" was obviously run by relatives of the real-life people who inspired this movie:

#59 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2003, 07:39 PM:

Woops--forgot to turn off italics after "hard"...and make that "Human Baloney"...

#60 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2003, 12:11 AM:

Robert -- but you meant to say whcih?

Slightly snarky, but respecting the hell out of your general copyediting ability,

#61 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2003, 09:33 AM:

As I've said before, my own copy is the one thing I have trouble catching errors in. I meant to cap. "park" too.

#62 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2003, 10:28 AM:

Quick belated P.S.: I get the Daily Telegraph Big Book of Cryptic Crosswords (now that Henry Hook seems to have vanished from the scene)-- some quite easy (after the initial five or more minutes of "what the heck?"), others fiendish, especially if the references are just TOO British. I've learned a lot of Britspeak over the years (starting with Liverpudlian in the Beatles era), but for some things you just have to live there, I suppose. It's a good passtime during breakfasts, dull innings of baseball games, male action adventure movies on TV, etc. But I NEVER do them in ink!

#63 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2003, 11:09 AM:

If you like jumbles, you might well prosper in the 'Word Poker' game on Neopets. Which is kind of like a huge suite of solitaire webgames attached to a virtual-pet thing. Highly addictive.

I'm 'eloisebd' there, if you wanted to friend me. :->

#64 ::: Nancy C. Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2003, 02:43 PM:

I not only have discalcula, as Elric attests, but I also have the "see out of the corner of my eye" ability to see both typos and badly designed type. Comes from too many years of looking at galleys. Numbers are upside down and backwards. Words naturally fall into place for me, both spelling-wise and grammar-wise.

I had the ability to spell naturally from an early age. Drove my teachers crazy, even in first grade. I also have the natural grammar ability -- which drives =me= nuts when I have to back up what I =know= is correct with the hierarchically blessed grammatical reasoning. I still have to look up some things, after all these decades in publishing, only to prove that what I said was right along =is= right.

Alas, if only they would acknowledge I was touched by the spelling and grammar god as a child, and leave it at that. :)

#65 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2003, 03:00 PM:

"A slavish concern with the composition of words is the sign of a bankrupt intellect," said the Humbug.
-- Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

I used to be proud of my skill at spelling, until I started hanging around people who make a living out of managing words in ways that would make Gunther Gebel-Williams turn bright green. (Even the Net can deliver enlightenment, now and then.) But I've never been good at cryptics; I suspect it's something one needs to start on early.

#66 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2003, 08:27 AM:

I didn't start doing cryptics until I was in my mid-20s, and the British ones are a very recent enthusiasm. It helps if you have someone who can sort of train you in them. They're hard--and much harder for us Yanks. I did start doing xwords early, though, doing them together with my mother when I was maybe 10 or 11. That helps, I think.

#67 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2003, 04:07 AM:

Another fun excercise in cryptics is the TextTwist game at . You have a set of 6 or 7 letters and you have to unscramble all the words having 3 or more letters - very addictive.

I guess I am also a 'natural speller' - I got pretty far (i.e. first in my school) in the middle school spelling bees. I guess the way I approach spelling is by remembering combinations of letters in frequently used syllables, and also by memorizing specific examples like 'receive' and 'friend' (I used to have a lot of trouble with that one - finally I had to memorize it as 'fry end' :))

Another thing I have noticed about spelling is that since I have had a computer with spell check and auto-correct, I have more trouble spelling things correctly without it. I guess this is similar to how one forgets English in a foreign country, or how people become dependent on calculators to do simple math.

I can't spot typos all the way down a page immediately, but I'm not bad at proofreading if I try. Also, when I am typing a paper, I almost never have to go over it to correct either grammatical or spelling mistakes. This has always seemed kind of weird to me. ('weird' - why does English suck so much?)

I found that I could read the original paragraph on 'rdaenig' easily, but I had real trouble with disemvowelled text, text in which random letters are replaced with spaces, and this:

"Nreuuoms pmeeononnhs peossss uiapocmltecnd etaaoilxnpn; nwttdtsniinoahg, the pdseuo-snfiiiectc spssliiimm is not snfiiiectc and eieecndvs are oetfn mdanleiisg."

(Numerous phenomenons possess uncomplicated explanation; notwithstanding, the pseudo-scientific simplisism is not scientific and evidences are often misleading.)

Until I saw 'pseudo-scientific,' I could not pick out a single word. Is this simply because the words are long, or because there are grammatical errors in the text? I think this is worth studying, but I have no background in linguistics.

I could also read similar text in Spanish fairly well, and what I could not pick out was due to my somewhat limited Spanish vocabulary. The first time I saw the English text, I did not notice that it was garbled.

About l33t speak: I have always been able to understand it, and it is based mainly on representing letters using different characters or transformations of letters. Also, the origin of the term 'l33t' is the word elite, which I've seen as 'eleet' (3l33t) - and then it was further shortened to 'l33t'.

Here are some examples of letter transformations (I hope these actually help someone...):

|< = K
3 = E
4 = A
7 = T
1 = L
5 = S
and so on...

I really hope that this style of writing does not mix with 'correct' English, because I think it does much to detract from the aesthetic value of looking at written English.

EVERYONE who is interested in this topic - don't say you don't have time, because you can make it - should read all of the discussion on this page, and the discussion at . This is, in my opinion, the best of the Internet in that every comment is meaningful and helpful. There are also many fascinating links dealing with the subject on both pages. I just wish I had found these threads earlier.

Some more URL's (is that the right plural?) pointing to scripts that will allow you to generate scrambled text:

Sorry if these don't show up as hyperlinks, because I don't know.

Cheers, happy reading, or whatever,

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.