So borrowing and meaningless

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As is my custom, I was zipping along merrily, letting my fingers dance on the keys to transfer my thought-flow into typed words.  Usually when I'm in a good mood and this happens — which is almost always — I'm thinking thoughts in my head (speaking the sounds of the words I want to type) and letting the neuro-muscular synapses and reflexes take care of the actual writing.  It's really quite a nice, pleasurable collaboration between mind and body.

So, my normal practice is to think thoughts, "let my fingers do the walking", and enjoy watching what appears on the computer screen.  But I do have to keep an eye on what my fingers are producing, because sometimes it is hilariously wrong and only tenuously connected to what was going on in my brain.

I do keep a close watch on what is being spewed out onto the computer screen.  This is especially the case nowadays when the "a" key on my keyboard is being refractory.  I have to hit the "a" key hrder (! that really hppened just now!!) than all the other keys with my relatively weak, little, left pinkie.  Come to think of it, the same sort of thing often happens with my relatively weak, little, right pinkie, so ' " ; and : often get skipped over as I type.  So I do have to closely monitor the stream of letters and punctuation marks that is flying out onto the computer screen (just had to correct that from "scream" [!], which actually showed up on the screen before I noticed it and immediately went bck and corrected it [I'm letting some of the missing "a's" remain to show that the pinkie problem is real]).

Imagine my surprise and amusement earlier this morning when I wanted to type "so boring and meaningless", but what my fingers put up on the screen — in real time as I was watching it take place — was "so borrowing and meaningless".  Wow!!!  That's amazing!  Instead of the six letters of "boring", my fingers staccato punched out the nine letters of "borrowing", and three syllables instead of two syllables.  This was not a problem of auto-correct; my fingers really did type "borrowing", even though my mind was thinking "boring".

My fingers are my semi-autonomous auto-pilot.


"Take stalk of: thoughts on philology and Sinology" (3/29/20)


  1. Philip Taylor said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 7:25 am

    Just wanted to check whether I use my little fingers for the "a" key (etc), and the answer is "no, I do not". I was taught to touch-type very early on, when I signed up as an apprentice in overseas telegraphy, but it is clear from watching my fingers as I type (something I rarely do) that I now see that I have conveniently chosen to forget how to touch type properly, and instead touch-type using just three fingers from each hand. Plus my thumb for the space-bar, of course.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 8:09 am

    From the time I was a sophomore in high school (I think I was the only guy who signed up for the secretarial and home ec classes; the other guys took machine shop, woodworking, etc.), I learned to touch type properly. Already in high school, I was typing over 65 wpm, and now I can type over 100 wpm.

    No "hunt and peck" (two index fingers) typing for me, like my high school band director. And I know a lot of other people (almost all males) who type like that. I'm always amazed at how fast they can go using only two fingers instead of all ten. I think the good ones can get up to about 30 wpm.

  3. Blythe Creamer said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 8:52 am

    I almosy always experience the "finger thinking" issue with the words origami and original. I type origami much more than the average individual, and so when it comes to writing "original", my finger-brain too often outputs "origami" instead, despite only the first three letters being the same.
    "Embodied cognition" is the broad term that covers this issue.

  4. Kowodo said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 9:26 am

    Sound to me like a bad keyboard. If it is not attached on your laptop I would consider buying another one. (Maybe even buying extra keyboard for laptop, depending on the amount of typing you do)

  5. Robert Coren said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 9:27 am

    I wonder if "borrowing" for "boring" is not what your fingers actually typed, but what the spell-checker/auto-corrector decided was what you meant by whatever extra letters actually crept in. This happens to me a lot.

  6. David Marjanović said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 9:35 am

    My fingers are my semi-autonomous auto-pilot.

    Mine too. I do make phonetic errors, anticipations and basic typos (not hitting keys properly), but it happens a lot that I type a common sequence that begins the same way as what I want to type. I touch-type and never use a spellchecker.

  7. Ellen K. said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 10:03 am

    Though not near as rapid at it as Victor Mair, I learned to touch type in 9th grade, and when I got first a smart phone, I had to imagine myself touch typing to find the letters on the on screen keyboard. No prior experience at one or two finger typing.

    And I've done the thing of typing one word, something I commonly type, when thinking of another word that starts the same. When they sound nothing alike.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 10:13 am

    @Robert Coren

    "borrowing" is what my fingers actually typed. There was no spell checking or autocorrection.

  9. KevinM said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 10:15 am

    I am of a certain age (and therefore "certainly aged," as Lord Byron wrote), and learned touch typing on a manual typewriter in 9th grade. As a result, unless I concentrate on not doing so, I still pound the keys unnecessarily. I suspect I'm tough on keyboards and am more susceptible to repetitive stress injury, but I pretty much avoid the strong finger/weak finger errors you write of. (I should mention that I had years of piano lessons, too.)

  10. unekdoud said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 10:45 am

    In the opposite direction (lazy fingers?), letters that appear more than once occasionally cause me to miss out entire consonts in repetive words. So frusting.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 11:36 am

    Since the coronavirus lockdowns started, I spend almost all of my time working at home (forbidden from going to my office), which means that I'm typing on the standalone keyboard of a Mac desk top computer (I think it's called an iMac) on my dining room table.

    When there's no lockdown (how many more months will we have to wait?), I spend a lot of time working in tea / coffee shops, cafes, etc., in which case that means I'm typing on my beloved, little (13") MacBook Air. The built-in keyboard of the latter is very responsive, so I have less pinky problems when I'm typing on it.

  12. KevinM said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 12:49 pm

    Another peculiarity. No doubt from playing the piano, I do fingering substitutions — i.e., I don't always use the same finger for the same key. If there are two pinky-letters in a row, for example, I will substitute ring-finger for one of them, to maintain the flow. (I really should stop using the names for fingers that I learned as a toddler!)

  13. Anthony said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 2:04 pm

    There are other (medical?) names for the fingers? As a pianist you could always just use numbers.

  14. Misha Schutt said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 2:05 pm

    I was reading at age 4 and playing with my grandfather’s Swiss Olivetti portable at 5 (1955). The key response was very light, so it was easy for my small fingers. I ended up doing a sophisticated hunt-and-peck using two to six fingers, depending on how hard I had to I hit the keys on a given manual. The high school business teacher watched me typing at one point and said, “Don’t you ever take my typing class! I don’t want to have to unteach you that!”
    Now I use about six fingers on an actual keyboard or on the iPad display keyboard, and my most common errors are transpositions. (There was one word processing app on a CPM computer in the 1980s that had a one-keystroke command to flip two transposed letters, after placing the cursor between them. Nobody else ever did that, to my knowledge.)
    Anyway, I once applied for a job that required 45 wpm. I just managed it on a Selectric, the keys wet with sweat by the time I finished. Now faster and less accurate, I rely heavily on MS Word’s red squiggly underline with suggestions.

  15. Duncan said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 2:18 pm

    My most frustrating "spello" as I often repeat it trying to correct the original error AND a few words later after correcting the first one… and the second and third… is adding an extraneous "e" at the end of words like "menu".

    @ KevinM, not quite old enough to have learned typing on manual typewriters here, but I did learn on electric typewriters, well before "ergonomic keyboards" were a thing, and I still cringe at the wrist pain associated with it. Though I quickly became interested in "computer programming" (anachronistic term of course), my typing didn't come into its own until I got an ergonomic keyboard. I've no idea what my wpm is now but (on ergonomic, for anything serious even on a laptop or phone) it's "fast enough", as for decades now I've typed faster than my head generates the content to type, either English or computer language domains.

    @ Robert Coren, here, spellcheck is appropriately set to red-underline but not auto-correct, since being a Linux geek, even in the otherwise English domain much of my typing is domain-specific app/command/lib/package/function/language-builtin names like git (the popular distributed version-control content tracker), libXxf86dga (X "direct graphics access" library from the xfree86 era), kded (KDE-daemon, informs KDE-frameworks-based apps of desktop settings changes, etc), libksba (security-certificate related), esac or fi (builtins ending case and if statements, respectively). Auto-correcting would be terrible, as would be adding stuff like "fi" to a personal dictionary and then missing it in the English domain, but "underlighning" "questionable" spelling is perfect! =:^)

  16. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 3:32 pm

    If I type a word such as origin or begin, it often ends up with a spare g at the end because of muscle-memory-typing -ing.

  17. BobW said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 4:36 pm

    @Victor – I took typing in high school during the late 60s, simply because the drafting class I really wanted was full. Drafting has gone away from mechanical pencils and french curves to computer aided design, and typing is more pervasive than ever.

    State-of-the-art IBM Selectric typewriters that weighed a ton and would shake the desk.

  18. KevinM said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 7:12 pm

    @anthony. Unavoidable ambiguity. Piano teachers assign the digits numbers 1-2-3-4-5. Everybody else seems to label them thumb-1-2-3-4, on the theory that the thumb is in a different category. I would oppose this system, if it were opposable.

  19. rob said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 1:53 am

    As a non-touch typist, but quite quick, I have some very persistent errors. The most noticeable is chnaged for changed. Is this left and right hand timing, or something deeper?
    As a frequent techie visitor to the USA (from the UK) I was impressed with touch-typing abilities of American engineers. It's something that isn't, but should be IMHO, taught in schools here.

  20. Robert Coren said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 9:36 am

    @ KevinM: True — as a teenaged pianist I used to have fruitless arguments with string players about finger-numbering — but in the present context you would have referred to 4th and 5th fingers, which would have made it clear which system you were using.

  21. Rosie Redfield said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 12:35 pm

    This happens to me all the time, maybe more as I get older. I now think our brains must have something like Google's filter that asks "Did you mean ____? Showing results for ____" when it thinks you've made a typo or spelling error.

    The conscious part of my brain says 'ratio' but the filter decides that I really meant 'ration' and instructs my fingers accordingly.

  22. Joyce Melton said,

    May 29, 2020 @ 1:00 am

    My ring fingers do not know which hand they are on. I'm forever typing 's' for 'l' or 'w' for 'o' or the other way around.

  23. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    June 1, 2020 @ 12:41 pm

    You could always use the (classical) guitarist fingers p-i-m-a, though they don't use pinkies. Same for harpists?

    I learned to type on my 1982 Christmas present Atari 400, which had a membrane keyboard. I got very quick! Then I took typing in 9th grade, 1st quarter on a manual, 2nd on a Selectric (which did shake the desks!). I got a D that 1st quarter because I had to unlearn my bad habits, which was a very frustrating process. (I got an A 2nd quarter.)

    I used to have some common typos, such as hte for the, so I set up a macro to correct that, but that got me into trouble when I tried to type daughter.

    Also, my diploma says my degree is in "computer programming" (mostly COBOL) Recently a young (25-ish) person exclaimed to me, "I didn't know you were a developer!" to which I replied, "I'm not; I'm a programmer." Why did they change the word?

  24. Philip Taylor said,

    June 1, 2020 @ 12:49 pm

    "Why did they change the word?" — possibly at much the same time as computer programs degenerated into "app"s. One develops apps, but programs a computer.

  25. Graham Blake said,

    June 6, 2020 @ 2:58 am

    I notice I type near-homophones (e.g. are/hour) quite a lot when I am tired, and typing borrowing instead of boring is exactly the same type of mistake I make. It's like my fingers have their own brain and are just typing whatever they think they've heard irrespective of how little sense it makes. It freaks me out all the time.

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