The weirdness of typing errors

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In this age of typing on computers and other digital devices, when we daily input thousands upon thousands of words, we are often amazed at the number and types of mistakes we make.  Many of them are simple and straightforward, as when our fingers stumblingly hit the wrong keys by sheer accident.  People who type on phones warn their correspondents about the likelihood that their messages are prone to contain such errors because they include some such warning at the bottom: 

Please forgive spelling / grammatical errors; typed on glass // sent from my phone.

Sometimes mistyping is the result of overzealous autocorrect software.

Another kind of typing error is due to phonological similarity that gets mixed up in our brains.

We have already described a multitude of such blunders in previous posts (see "Selected readings" below for a sampling), but today I want to introduce a very special instance that borders on the sublime.

I wanted to type:

How can anybody in their right mind still think that way?

What came out was:

How can anyone in their remind still think that way?

Since I type very rapidly, I was already done with that sentence and down to the next one before I looked back to check what I had written (it's my custom to do what I call "running proofing") and noticed the mistake.  Of course, like everyone, I expect to make errors from time to time, but this one really surprised me, because:

1. two words became one word

2. an adjective and a noun became a verb

3. "right" only shares the initial consonant with "remind"

4. although "mind" and "remind" share the same etymological root, semantically they have evolved in quite different directions, one meaning the faculty of thought, reason, and feeling, and the other "pay attention to".

From Middle English minde, münde, ȝemünde, from Old English mynd, ġemynd (memory), from Proto-Germanic *mundiz, *gamundiz (memory, remembrance), from Proto-Indo-European *méntis (thought) (compare also mantis, via Greek), from the root *men- (to think). Cognate with Old High German gimunt (mind, memory), Danish minde (memory), Icelandic minni (memory, recall, recollection), Gothic (munds, memory, mind), Latin mēns (mind, reason), Sanskrit मनस् (mánas), Ancient Greek μένος (ménos), Albanian mënd (mind, reason). Doublet of mantra. Related to Old English myntan (to mean, intend, purpose, determine, resolve).  (Wiktionary)

Typing errors can indeed be wired weird, but they are also potentially illuminating in that they reveal aspects of the nature of langauge language and how the mind works, and that is quite amazing.


Selected readings


  1. Craig said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 11:40 am

    My all-time favorite spelling disclaimer (not mine, I saw it on a mailing list long ago) went like this:

    Please excuse any typos. I am just a brain in a vat and I do not type well.

  2. Laura Morland said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 12:55 pm

    As someone who types hundreds of words a day in two languages, I thoroughly enjoyed your post.

    However, although I'm reluctant to dash water on this pleasant theory about the way your mind works (all our minds work), I'm wondering if it's possible that you typed *something else* in that setence that your computer autocorrected to "remind"?

  3. Laurence said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 1:01 pm

    Is it possible you inadvertently deleted some of the letters from "right" before you went on to type "mind"?

  4. Stephen Jones said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 1:16 pm

    I am fond of the mobile text reworking of "Newham barmaid" to "Mexico carnage".

  5. Stephen Jones said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 1:25 pm

    I'm fond of the mobile text reworking of "Newham barmaid" to "Mexico carnage".

  6. Victor Mair said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 1:35 pm

    @Laura Morland

    There was no indication of autocorrect. (blue or red underlining


    I would have left a space between the two parts.

    I was going along smoothly and fluidly. I was stunned when I looked back to see what I had written.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 1:35 pm

    For some reason (it's pretty complicated), I was reading the Wikipedia article on Troy Aikman, the Dallas Cowboys' star quarterback, and came upon the following sentence: "Aikman also won the 1983 Oklahoma high school state championship in typing."

    I was the quarterback of my high school team and was the best, fastest, most accurate typist in my class of about 30 students (I think that all the others were girls [the boys took shop]).

  8. Stephen Jones said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 1:36 pm

    I also like this review of a Malcolm Sargent concert

  9. Mark Dow said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 1:43 pm

    Related, and fascinating, is when we mis-hear a word or phrase, and then after a moment hear it correctly in retrospect (has anyone studied this delayed processing?) — whence the title "What? Oh." of this collation:

  10. Victor Mair said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 2:13 pm

    I spent half of Friday and all of Saturday with my oldest brother and my nephew back in Ohio. They are both hard of hearing (50% or so hearing ability). Nephew's condition is genetic (from his mom's side) and my brother has too much wax in his ears (he's getting it removed today!). So we had to do a lot of shouting, and I heard plenty of "What? Oh."

  11. Philip Taylor said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 2:23 pm

    Nothing to do with the main theme here, but what does " [the boys took shop]" mean ?

  12. Mike Grubb said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 2:51 pm

    @Philip Taylor– "Shop" is a nickname of what is sometimes called "Machine Shop Class" or "Industrial Arts," so it deals with tool use and various sorts of fabricating of material objects–woodworking, leatherworking, metalworking, and so on (and probably 3D printing by now, I'd guess). Historically, it has often contrasted with "Home Economics," which deals with things like cooking, sewing, and household shopping. In the past, young men took "shop" and young women took "home ec" because… well… we mostly all understand why. It sounds like in VM's context, shop was contrasted with typing, which, being thought of as a presecretarial skill, suffered the same sort of filtering.

  13. KeithB said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 3:48 pm

    or auto shop, or print shop or….

    Then there is the far side cartoon:
    "Non-singing canaries have to take wood shop"

  14. Chester Draws said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 3:48 pm

    I type the word "ratio" as "ration [backspace]". I touch type and once my fingers start going "t" "i" "o" they're going to type an "n".

    I suppose that is fairly common.

    What freaks me out, is that it has now passed over to my handwriting.

    (I'm a Maths teacher. I use the word "ratio" a lot.)

  15. Maxwell said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 4:25 pm

    In the United Kingdom, the equivalent of what in the United States is called "shop" is Design and technology or, abbreviated, D&T.

  16. Victor Mair said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 5:51 pm

    @Mike Grubb

    You explained it perfectly.

    In my high school, the girls usually took home ec and typing, whereas the boys took two kinds of shop — woodworking / carpentry and machine shop / car repair. Both the boys and girls did these different subjects in two separate years.

    I knew I wanted to continue my education past high school, so I chose to enroll in typing. There may even have been a second year / semester. Since I liked to cook and bake (but not sew!), I also took that, allowing me to completely skip the shop classes.

  17. Thomas Hutcheson said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 6:46 pm

    QWERTY if especially treacherous for English-primary language users typing in Spanish. "V" and "B" (pronounced the same in Spanish) are side by side as are "H" and "J" which can be pronounced the same in certain words in Spanish, but the aspirated "H" in English is the closest sound the the "J" in Spanish.

  18. Victor Mair said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 6:52 pm

    Now I get to ask Chester Draws a question I've been meaning to ask for decades. Why do British people refer to "maths" in the plural? In America, we use the singular "math" as the abbreviation for mathematics.

  19. Chester Draws said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 7:29 pm

    The subject mathematics has an "s" on the end, so it makes sense. It's not about Maths being plural, because everyone says "Maths *is* easy".

    I don't know the answer, but I note that traditionally upper class British slang puts an "ers" on a lot of abbreviated forms that don't even have it in the original. For example champagne is "champers", the rugby ground at Twickenham is "Twickers", and for a lot of last names when put into a diminutive — Thompson might be "Thommers" etc.

    I wonder if the subject went from mathematics -> mathers -> maths.

    Others propose that the subject was shortened in things like school reports and timetables sometime to "Maths." and sometimes to "Math." using the standard rules where a final "s" often stays in an abbreviation (trousers went to "trous.", not "trou"). From there it just deviated, largely at random.

    There are other similar ones, which suggest the "maths" version is more standard. Spectacles are "specs", for example.

  20. Chas Belov said,

    March 14, 2022 @ 10:31 pm

    I regularly type langauge. And many other typos and transpositions. I regularly have to type passwords two to four times before I can get in.

    I can also verify from our 404 Not Found reports that I review as a webmaster that B/V swaps are very common. So common that when I create a shortcut for our website that has a B or V in it, I will create a corresponding shortcut that has the corresponding V or B. It's easy enough for me to do, so ¿why not if it gets the site visitor to their destination?

  21. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    March 15, 2022 @ 1:03 am

    Most of my typing is done on an iPad or smartphone screen. Sometimes the touch pad just won’t register a touch, even if I have seen my finger hit the “key.” That’s when I get the kind of autocorrect results cited above by Professor Mair.

    Recently I was doing some online reading about Audrey Park (an architecturally notable English country house), and found my entries corrected as shown. It is Audley Park, spellcheck! Audley!

  22. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    March 15, 2022 @ 3:09 am

    Sorry — The house is Audley End. For more information, go to:

  23. Peter Grubtal said,

    March 15, 2022 @ 3:11 am

    Victor Mair
    Surely like all academic linguists you are against prescriptivism, so must accept the answer: "because we do!"
    Flippancy aside, the reason for the difference must be in history somewhere.
    I'm so used to seeing math in the singular, but still can't silence the spontaneous inner voice saying that's weird/wrong when I come across it.

    PS the auto-spell check in this blog puts a wavy red line under "math", but lets my "maths" go with nary a complaint. Is it suffering from Britishism, or does it recognise my origins, and adjust accordingly?

  24. ardj said,

    March 15, 2022 @ 3:16 am

    Interesting. But may I suggest that 'mind' and 'remind' have not evolved semantically in quite such "diferent directions" ? OED sugests that for five centuries, 'mind' was used for 'to remind', tho' described as now rare or dialectical. But even now one still readily says, e.g. "mind you".

    The next step of course is to work out how many of the mistypings in the comments are real and how many are thrown in for the hell of it.

  25. Peter Grubtal said,

    March 15, 2022 @ 3:26 am

    math/maths contd.

    Actually after further testing, I guess the blog accesses my locale: it prefers "colour" to "color" as well.

  26. Terpomo said,

    March 15, 2022 @ 3:39 am

    I don't understand how people can type on touch screens. At one point for a while my computer wasn't working and I had to borrow my mum's Kindle to go online. When I finally got back on a physical keyboard, I felt, in my own words at the time, as if I had been cured of f—ing aphasia.

  27. Philip Taylor said,

    March 15, 2022 @ 4:58 am

    Some of us can't, Terpomo. When I see humanoids filling the screens of their mobile 'phones at lightening speed using only two thumbs, it is immediately clear to me that they must come from another planet.

    But then I can't even use a modern keyboard if it lacks the tactile feedback of an IBM "clicky" keyboard, as almost all do. Fortunately I have a nice collection of IBM "clicky" keyboards, including the one on which all my comments on Language Log are typed …

  28. Victor Mair said,

    March 15, 2022 @ 6:32 am


    You're right.

    "Mind the gap" (9/1/15)

    "Mind your head" (8/28/15)

  29. David Morris said,

    March 15, 2022 @ 6:42 am

    I almost always type 'applicant' instead of 'application' and vice versa (at least the same part of speech' and there are probably other similar pairs.

    Re mind and remind: one activity I did with ESL students involved cards with prefixes and/or suffixes on one part and roots on the other. Many students wanted to match 're' and 'member' to make 'remember'. (I thought I'd written a blog post about that – if I did I can't find it.)

  30. Philip Anderson said,

    March 15, 2022 @ 8:42 am

    Maths and mathematics are both singular despite their form, but the original Greek (ta mathematika, things learnt) was plural.

  31. Jonathan Smith said,

    March 16, 2022 @ 5:30 pm

    A trade might be arranged whereby math+sport are rejoined on one side of the Atlantic or other with considerations for the net one letter loss

  32. Nanette said,

    March 17, 2022 @ 8:17 am

    “Mind” was used as meaning “remember” in Western Pennsylvania when I was a child and might still be. It never failed to startle me when my grandfather would say to my grandmother, “Do you mind, Elizabeth?” For him, he was asking her whether she remembered something. To us “young’uns” it meant, “Would you please stop doing that?”

  33. Dara Connolly said,

    March 17, 2022 @ 6:55 pm

    In Britain a shop is where you buy things and a store is where you store things.
    In America a shop is where you make things and a store is where you buy things.

  34. Diana Bloom said,

    March 17, 2022 @ 7:19 pm

    How to connect with you folks online? Love this blog/site/?.


  35. DMcCunney said,

    March 18, 2022 @ 8:25 pm

    Technology does odd things to written language. I was taught penmanship in elementary school, but lacked the patience to put in the practice, so my longhand was execrable. II never got to muscle memory, and I had to actively think about it as I did it. If I needed to hand write anything extensive, I block printed. Then I got a typewriter, and did less and less of that.

    I could do fine lettering. I was a graphic designer before falling into the deep end of computers, A step in graphic design is the "comp", a hand rendered sketch intended to give a good idea of what the finished product would look like. I was into typography and letter forms, and could produce comps folks thought ere typeset at first glance. (No, I'm just good at drawing letters…) But I subsequently began using DTP software, so my ability to do fine hand lettering is largely atrophied.

    I personally can't stand virtual keyboards. An absolute requirement when I got my first tablet was support for an external keyboard. Part of the problem was what I might type. The sorts of things I'm involved in mean I write more, not less. Some questions don't *have* short answers. Bur I see changes in written communication, because ion screen virtual keyboards are in use, and extended text entry is hard. I don't see that as a good thing.

    On a likely related note, I'm involved in online book discussion forums. At on, the question was what book to read/discuss next, and the group's founder said oa a suggestion "That's a good idea. I'll look for the audio book." Apparently, he didn't *read*, he *listened* And if so, it explained another instance were he talked about the length of a proposed book. I had read it, and did so in less that an hour. For me, it wasn't long. If what you did was listen, the equation changed.

    And as a computer guy, a pet peeve is the increasing use of video as software manuals. I *read* an order of magnitude faster thin I watch. Give me actual written documentation I can search. Tutorials and reference materials are different things and should be treated as such.

  36. Terpomo said,

    March 19, 2022 @ 2:09 am

    Spelling 'phone with an apostrophe, Phillip? Goodness, and I thought I was old-fashioned. (Well, I probably make up for my old-fashioned habits with some very weird ones in other directions.)
    Dara, that's quite interesting, I don't think I've ever heard 'store' used in that sense. Maybe I didn't realize it when I did.
    DMcCunney, I'd bet you're older than I am, but despite being 23 I can very much relate to many of your complaints.

  37. Jonathan said,

    March 25, 2022 @ 8:49 am

    VM, in my HS days in rural Minnesota, I had a mandatory half year of vocational agriculture (vo-ag) and another half year of industrial arts (shop: woodworking, mechanical drawing, &c). In a larger school those would have been full-year alternatives. Girls took home ec (no, autocorrect, not RC). Running out of other electives, I took typing long before the computer era: in the end the most useful class I ever took.

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