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Eric P. Smith writes:

Is there a name for a typographical error like the following?  If not, perhaps we should call it a “Firebug”.

Since 2021, Truss has served as the Secretary of State for Fireugb Cinnibweakth and Development affairs.

Liz Truss, who may well be the UK’s next prime minister, was Secretary of State not for some obscure Scottish Gaelic department with an indecipherable name, but for “Foreign Commonwealth and Development affairs”.  The typist’s right hand has strayed one quantum to the left, so that O has become I, M has become N, and so on.  The hands will have physically collided with the left index finger on the T of “Commonwealth” and the right index finger above the G next to the H, and the collision must have jogged the right hand back onto the straight and narrow, apparently without the typist even noticing.

The source for Eric's observation is an article by Matt O'Leary, "Next British Prime Minister Odds: Liz Truss Given a 68% Chance to be the Next British Prime Minister", OddsChecker 7/22/2022.

The obligatory screenshot:



  1. Dick Margulis said,

    July 23, 2022 @ 10:28 am

    I would propose calling it a gold-bug, in homage to Edgar Allen Poe's story, which seems pertinent.

  2. John F said,

    July 23, 2022 @ 12:30 pm

    I’ve often heard ‘fat finger’ as a term for typing the wrong thing. Eg “sorry, I fat fingered that one”, or you see some anomalous data in the database or a user got sent down the wrong path because they fat fingered one of the fields.

    For this case, adjacent key error, doesn’t have a great ring to it, but it seems like what happened. Sometimes the auto-correct just gives up when you make too many mistakes and lets the ‘raw’ keystrokes through.

  3. mg said,

    July 23, 2022 @ 1:02 pm

    @John F – it's not just adjacent keys. For those of us old enough to have been taught touch typing back in the days of typing on paper, there is a set hand position one uses on the qwerty keyboard. This type of error occurs when one's hands are in resting position but one hand is shifted over by one key.

    Since I look at the monitor rather than at my fingers while typing, I usually catch these errors pretty quickly. It looks like this writer wasn't looking at either.

  4. Y said,

    July 23, 2022 @ 1:10 pm

    Halbut Returb.

  5. Ralph J Hickok said,

    July 23, 2022 @ 3:13 pm

    When I was about 8 years old, a friend of mine and I developed a "secret code" that involved striking one key to the right of the actual letter to encipher a message and then, of course, striking one key to the left of the typed letter to decipher it.

  6. Anthony said,

    July 23, 2022 @ 3:24 pm

    "Fat finger" is established usage in the financial world:


  7. Olaf Zimmermann said,

    July 23, 2022 @ 4:10 pm

    Given that there is, at least to my knowledge, no Welsh Department for Inuit Affairs, may I humbly suggest that E.P. Smith's explanation is perfectly adequate but could simply be labelled 'off-by-one'?

    The only thing which puzzles me is that on QWERTY keyboards there's a little nib on the J-key – the default position for your right index finger – so I can only presume that the (touch) typist must have been in one heck of a hurry …
    unless they were trying to suggest that Ms Truss is the representative for Llareggub.

  8. David Marjanović said,

    July 23, 2022 @ 4:17 pm

    "Fat finger" is established usage in the financial world:

    No – that refers to a wide variety of errors, including some that have nothing to do with fingers; confusions of two numbers for example.

    Here we're talking about a hand being shifted from the resting position it's supposed to have in touch-typing.

  9. David Marjanović said,

    July 23, 2022 @ 4:19 pm

    The only thing which puzzles me is that on QWERTY keyboards there's a little nib on the J-key – the default position for your right index finger – so I can only presume that the (touch) typist must have been in one heck of a hurry …

    Oh, I've made such errors myself. I touch-type, and like mg I look at the screen when I type, so they don't get far; but the keys are large enough that you don't necessarily touch the nibs on J and F – unless, ironically, if you have particularly fat fingers.

  10. David Morris said,

    July 23, 2022 @ 5:39 pm

    For a moment I thought that the author of 'Eats(,) Shoots and Leaves' had gone into politics and we could expect perfect punctuation in government publications. But no …

    Fairly recently, I accidentally discovered that 'dry' and 'set' are equivalent with the fingers shifted. I later found 'hit' and 'joy', 'view' and 'bore', and 'our' and 'pit'. I have just found 'for' and 'die'.

  11. unekdoud said,

    July 23, 2022 @ 8:31 pm

    I always get this, perhaps due to not taking a conventional touch typing course, and jabe always wanted spellcheck to detect hand shift (translation? transposition?) errors.

  12. TonyK said,

    July 24, 2022 @ 5:55 am

    I wrote a program to look through the Scrabble dictionary for matching pairs, and there was a unique longest pair:


    So we could call it a waxier escort.

  13. Julian Hook said,

    July 24, 2022 @ 7:18 am

    In 2019 a politics newsletter from the Washington Post contained the following puzzling sentence:

    “Evidence is emerging that President Trump’s acting chief of staff enabled gun to pressure Ukraine to do his political bidding.”

    The next day there was a correction. It should have said "him," not "gun."

  14. Eric P Smith said,

    July 24, 2022 @ 8:31 am

    Mark: Thanks for airing this.
    Commenters: Thanks for engaging with it.
    TonyK: I love your suggestion of calling it a waxier escort. Unfortunately that would require both hands to slip…

  15. Robert Coren said,

    July 24, 2022 @ 10:07 am

    It has always annoyed me that my computer's autocorrect algorithm is apparently incapable of recognizing off-by-one errors, even when only one character is out of position.

  16. Gregory Kusnick said,

    July 24, 2022 @ 10:13 am

    "Hand shift error" seems clear and concise. What's wrong with that?

  17. TonyK said,

    July 24, 2022 @ 11:11 am

    Eric P Smith: I'm sure I don't know what you mean. This is what a waxy Escort looks like.

  18. DMcCunney said,

    July 24, 2022 @ 5:30 pm

    In programming, there is a large crop of "off by one" errors.

    But those are specifically numeric, and the usual source is confusion on whether you are counting from zero or one. (There are valid reasons to do both, but making sure your starting point is defined in your code doesn't always happen. Other programmers picking up your code get surprises when they guess wrong.)


  19. Viseguy said,

    July 24, 2022 @ 7:18 pm

    "Wertyu signaling"?

  20. Brett said,

    July 24, 2022 @ 8:38 pm

    The worst experience I ever had during a musical performance happened when we were playing a piano concerto, and during one of her solo sections, the soloist got one of her fingers in the wrong place. She just kept playing the wrong notes, moving by rote, and it sounded hideously discordant.

  21. AntC said,

    July 24, 2022 @ 9:30 pm

    my computer's autocorrect algorithm is apparently incapable of recognizing off-by-one errors,

    Aww autocorrect is pretty dumb. Remember it doesn't really understand what language (in the sense of which letter-patterns) you're typing; neither does it know if you're using a Dvorak or some other keyboard configuration.

    If there's not many people have mis-spelled in exactly the way you have, it won't have a repertoire of likely corrections. And it doesn't co-ordinate the spell-checker with the grammar-checker to predict a word that would make sense at that place in the sentence.

    "Wertyu signaling" — thread won!

    She [piano soloist] just kept playing the wrong notes, moving by rote,

    I don't get that: piano keyboards are not regular: there's no black key between E/F and B/C. If you were off-by-one, you'd be reaching for a black note that wasn't there. Or the whole piece was in C Major and didn't modulate? No such concerto, methinks. Even Beethoven's Triple Concerto (with a dumbed-down piano part for a rich/noble but barely capable pupil) manages some black notes.

  22. Eric P Smith said,

    July 24, 2022 @ 10:35 pm

    @Brett, @AntC: Without casting doubt on what Brett says, that does seem pretty odd. The section in question (not the whole work) may have been on the white notes only, which is quite plausible. But what to me seems extraordinary is that the pianist’s EARS did not tell her what correction she had to make. Having said that, most musicians do have their blind spots: I play chamber music, and I know I make mistakes of kinds that the other members of the group couldn’t have made, and vice versa. But to my mind, the incident does cast serious doubt on the musicianship of the good lady.

  23. AntC said,

    July 25, 2022 @ 1:19 am

    Perhaps it was a Jankó keyboard: "This key layout results in each chord and scale having the same shape on the keyboard with the same fingerings regardless of key, so there is no change in geometry when transposing music. Furthermore, the use of multiple rows allows the pianist to more naturally follow the contour of their hand and accounts for the different lengths of the fingers."

    (I've never seen one. Whoever wrote the entry on keyboards in Scholes' Oxford Companion to Music seems mad keen.)

    As @Eric says, performers usually play an instrument with their ears.

  24. Philip Taylor said,

    July 25, 2022 @ 3:31 am

    Wow — both 'wertyu signalling' and the Jankó keyboard in the same thread. I vote this thread of the year, unless and until it is overtaken by an even better.

  25. KeithB said,

    July 25, 2022 @ 7:40 am


    Off-by-one errors are also caused by using the wrong comparison such as greater-than-or-equal when greater-than is correct.

    Kernigham and Plauger "Elements of Programming Style" (Yes, "based" on Strunk and White) have several examples.

  26. Robert Coren said,

    July 25, 2022 @ 10:12 am

    Yes, it seems extremely odd that the pianist didn't hear that something was wrong.

    @AntC: Yes, typing in a foreign language can be an adventure, as the computer keeps trying to tell me all my words are misspelled, or worse yet, "corrects" them. (I recently got a surprise when I was writing an email message that contained the German titles of a lot of Mahler songs, and the words that I mistyped got flagged but the correct ones were left alone. And yet on a later occasion in the same email exchange it couldn't understand my German at all.)

  27. Philip Anderson said,

    July 26, 2022 @ 4:34 pm

    Some speakers of minority languages like Gaelic and Welsh get tired of their written languages being compared with strings of gibberish, with the subtext that they are not real languages.

  28. unekdoud said,

    August 2, 2022 @ 10:07 am

    I tried a variation on the WAXIER ESCORTS script, shifting only one hand and one direction at a time.

    Specifics: I used the Aspell 2of12 wordlist. The alphabet was ordered (based on QWERTY) in QAZWSX order, and the n leftmost letters were assigned to the left hand, for n=12 to 15. Only matches longer than 5 letters were considered.

    In any case, most pairs differed by only a 1-letter replacement (STEAK STEAL), or 2 letters helped by having I shift to an adjacent vowel (NUKES MILES). Some more interesting ones were

    Unfortunately, VULVA BULBS is not the only inappropriate replacement, as the N-word also shows up in the list.

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