Delete / elite button

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I've written several posts about unpredictable typing mistakes that are not the result of auto-correct or sloppiness, but are produced through phonological confusion in my own neuro-muscular hardware and software (see "Selected readings").  This morning I experienced another funny occurrence of such a mistake.

I had lost over 7,000 of the recent e-mails in my inbox, so I wrote to the excellent IT guys in Williams Hall:


I'm making good progress moving things from inbox to archives, but I just had a disaster.  Everything in my inbox between these two e-mails is missing:

Margaret ********   today (6/18/21) 11:53 a.m.


Jing ***  (11/18/20)  11:06 p.m.

There are thousands of important e-mails to me with all sorts of information, attachments, and so forth that I need to take care of, some of them very soon.

Can you somehow restore the missing items?

Since it was the weekend, I knew the IT crew wouldn't be able to respond until Monday, so I decided to look around in my computer a bit more to see if I could find the missing e-mails.  Lo and behold, I found all of them in the trash!

So I immediately wrote to the Williams Hall Help Desk:

Good news!

It seems like I have found all (or most all) of the missing e-mails in my Trash box.  I don't know how they ended up there. Maybe I fell asleep with my finger on the elite button.

Thank goodness I didn't empty my trash during the last few days. Usually I do that every two or three days, whenever  there are more than 2,000 e-mails in it.

Fortunately, before sending off my missive, I read over it and was amused to find that I had typed "elite" where I meant "delete".

If you read over my previous posts on such mistakes, you'll realize that, when I'm typing, I just "let my fingers do the walking" (do you remember that slogan from the 60s?).  I'm really on auto-type:  what I'm thinking just comes out through my fingers, but sometimes there are curious glitches.


Selected readings


  1. Morten Jonsson said,

    June 22, 2021 @ 7:22 am

    I’m glad that worked out.

    For me, “writing” tends to come out as “writhing.” But I wouldn’t blame my fingers for that, I’m pretty sure they’re just passing on the message.

  2. unekdoud said,

    June 22, 2021 @ 7:46 am

    It's possible to accidentally select lots of items for deletion if you have your finger on the Shift key. (With potential for a more dramatic typo.)

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    June 22, 2021 @ 8:19 am

    Vaguely related, in that I had a dream the other night in which I was involved in a pilot project for something or other. I was only when I woke up that I realised that, in my dream, I had in fact been involved in a pilate project (as in Pontius Pilate). How on earth does one dream of a wrong spelling for a word when, in the dream, the word was only spoken, never written ?

  4. Kate Bunting said,

    June 22, 2021 @ 9:05 am

    Morten Jonsson said
    For me, “writing” tends to come out as “writhing.”

    To quote Lewis Carroll:
    “Reeling and Writhing of course, to begin with,' the Mock Turtle replied, 'and the different branches of arithmetic-ambition, distraction, uglification, and derision.”

    When I was a library cataloguer, I was forever typing 'booklet' as 'boolket'.

  5. David Moser said,

    June 22, 2021 @ 9:43 am

    Victor, this post reminded me of an earlier LL post of yours:

    And then I discovered that I made a comment on this past post that applies equally well to this post. I quote:

    David Moser said,
    April 8, 2020 @ 2:31 pm

    Very fascinating observations, Victor. Speech errors can be so revelatory. This type of error might go under the heading of "phonetic decay" errors in writing, which I mention in my article "Slips of the Tongue and Pen in Chinese" in Sino-Platonic Papers No. 22 ( From which I quote this:

    "If a target word, once retrieved, waits in short-term memory long
    enough, very often the result is partial forgetting or "phonetic decay" – a
    loss or degradation of the phonological information in the word
    (Hotopf,1983). The following are a few examples in English from written
    Ex. 71. "…particularly with this letter …" (with this weather)
    Ex. 72. "I might as well twin around and do it again." (turn around)
    Ex. 73. "Okay, so far, find." (so far, fine)

    There are a couple of Chinese examples in the article, but I'd love to have more to add to the corpus.

  6. David Marjanović said,

    June 22, 2021 @ 12:42 pm

    When I was a library cataloguer, I was forever typing 'booklet' as 'boolket'.

    That reminds me of the blockuqote tag, one of the greatest menaces in the blogosphere…

  7. Jim said,

    June 22, 2021 @ 1:38 pm

    As someone in the past who has had to deal with these requests day in and day out, I'd be willing to bet some of the IT staff would think, "no, you got it right the first time…"

    I'd love to have an elite button on my keyboard.

    There's a veritable wellspring of humor potential here…

  8. jin defang said,

    June 22, 2021 @ 2:16 pm

    a friend who was head of the Idaho Republican Party found that spellcheck was rearranging the address from to, which he ruefully commented might be his next job.

    Some years ago, when I meant to type "intellectuals" I wrote "ineffectuals." Spell check wasn't to blame: this was on a typewriter. The ultimate Freudian slip.

  9. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    June 22, 2021 @ 10:27 pm

    An author of historical novels recently posted the slip she found in her own work during the process of reviewing it. A physician is giving instructions to a woman about the care of a male patient: “You can lay some damp sloths on his forehead and chest, Mrs. Gallagher, if he seems warm.”

    The writer confessed to being tempted to keep the sloths in place of “cloths,” just to see how readers reacted.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    June 23, 2021 @ 6:05 am

    It happened again last night. I "elided" around 2,000 e-mails in the space of a few seconds when I dozed off with my finger on that "elite" button.

  11. unekdoud said,

    June 23, 2021 @ 7:09 am

    I couldn't resist coming back for keyboard puns, so:

    Suffering from Freudian sleep? Looks like you'll need to Control Zzz!

  12. Bob Moore said,

    June 23, 2021 @ 4:45 pm

    The thought of deleting items due to being on autopilot reminds of an issue that bit me some years ago regarding a digital video recorder (DVR). For deleting recorded programs, this DVR had a confirmation step, but no undo. Since every deletion required confirmation, after a few months of use, pressing "OK" to confirm a deletion became automatic. Once when I accidentally selected "delete" for a program that I did not mean to delete, I also reflexively confirmed the deletion, even while I was consciously thinking that I did not want to delete the program. It was too late, and there was no way to undo the deletion. A good example, I think, of Daniel Kahneman's notion of "thinking, fast and slow." By the time my slow conscious brain decided not to delete the program, my fast unconscious brain had already deleted it. Fortunately, my current DVR does allow undoing recent deletions.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    June 24, 2021 @ 1:02 pm

    Almost every time when I want to type "flu" it comes out as "flue".

  14. Chas Belov said,

    June 24, 2021 @ 9:14 pm

    For as far back as I can remember, I often swap trailing t and d with each other (which makes sense) or they sometimes wind up as r or s (which doesn't). This happens both typing and hand printing. Not sure whether it happens in cursive.

  15. Josh R said,

    June 25, 2021 @ 3:52 am

    I have found that in recent years, when inputting Japanese text, I do a similar thing that I never thought I would do.

    As background, in the Japanese writing system, mora with voiced consonants are written with the same kana character as their unvoiced equivalents, but with marks indicating voicing. For example, the kana for the mora "ta" is written た. The voiced version, "da," is written だ. So far, so good.

    But the most widely-used method for inputting Japanese text uses romanization. For example, if I want to write た (or a word with that mora), I type "t" and then "a". The computer's Input Method Editor then converts that to a provisional た, and hitting the space bar will cycle through kanji that can be read "ta". Hitting "Enter" will then confirm the selected character. Okay, no problem here.

    Not infrequently, intending to type a voiced mora, I will instead type the unvoiced version. E.g., typing "t+a" when I want "d+a". It does not happen the other way. I don't type "d+a" when I want "t+a". Now I would expect this to be a common type of typo among native speakers, for whom "ta" and "da" are represented by virtually the same character, with "ta" being the unmodified form. But I'm coming from and alphabetical background, and indeed I learned to read Japanese in romanization before I ever learned any Japanese characters. For me, a voiceless alveolar plosive is represented by a "t" and a voiced alveolar plosive is represented by a "d". Or so I would think. Apparently, when my brain is in Japanese mode, that distinction is not always made.

  16. Gabe Ormsby said,

    June 27, 2021 @ 10:44 am

    My recurring version of this involves a unix command designed for finding pattern matches in text: grep. Often used among techies as a verb meaning "find instances of a pattern" and thus a rough synonym of "select." So it has become in my mind tightly connected with the verb "grab," to the point that I when I attempt to type "grab" it invariably comes out "grap" as a fusion of "grab" and "grep." Indeed, Of the three (soon to be four) instances of "grab" in this very post, three of the four were input as 'g-r-a-p-backspace-b'.

  17. Philip Taylor said,

    June 28, 2021 @ 6:18 am

    "A rough synonym of 'select'", a rough synonym of 'search', and/or another inadvertent pattern swap ?!

  18. Victor Mair said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 8:34 am

    In an analysis of Xi Jinping's speech to mark the 100th anniversary of the CCP, I typed "His delivery is labelled" when I meant to write "His delivery is labored".

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