Do You Have Typoglycemia?

Have you heard of typoglycemia?

No?  You sure?  Have you every read this….

“Aoccdrnig to a rseearch taem at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

If you can’t read that it says:

According to a research team at Cambridge University, it doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be in the right place. The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without a problem. This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself, but the word as a whole.

Wikipedia explains that typoglycemia is a neologism (a word that means a coined term) “given to a purported recent discovery about the cognitive processes behind reading written text….It is an urban legend/Internet meme that appears to have an element of truth to it.”

But Wikipedia points out that although the research is true, it wasn’t Cambridge University.  It was started by a letter written by a guy named Graham Rawlinson from Nottingham University to the New Scientist magazine.  It’s actually his Ph.D thesis – but Rawlinson states you should keep the first two letters and the final two letters of the word.  I tried to read the letter, but I can’t read much without subscribing to the magazine with my credit card.  But there is enough there to legitimize it.  According to the site, the letter was published in the magazine on May 29, 1999.

Unfortunately, as cool as the internet meme and urban legend is, it isn’t actually “true”.  The brain does read words in chunks and recognizes word shapes, which allows people to “speed-read”.  Matt Davis at the MRC Cognition and Brain Science Unit in Cambridge, UK, wrote about the meme and points out several cases in which the rules of the meme are followed, but it is difficult for the brain to decode the word.  Also interesting, Davis has the meme in several different languages.

There’s also some websites that scramble text for you.  Josh Nimroy created “The Cambridge Study Word Scrambler” and several sites use his Creative Common licensed work to create a derivative of the same idea.

So does this mean spelling is important?  Many young people do not think so, thanks in part to instant messengers and text message-speak.  I did not win any spelling bee contests in elementary school – I was the kid who debated whether or not I should purposely misspell the word just so I could sit down and be done with the torturous thing.  I still can’t spell aloud; I need to write it down.  Spell-checkers save me often.  But I would never turn in a final, printed copy of an assignment without looking over it myself for errors.  Spelling correctly is important; there even is a blog dedicated to it, SpellingCity.com.


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