Typing out the wrong words
February 1, 2011 10:38 AM   Subscribe

I keep switching words out that sound alike or are similar in the number of letters as the word I was trying to type. Am I just typing faster then my brain thinks, or is something else going on?

I am not by far the worlds greatest speller. Spell check is my friend.

About 10 years ago I started doing a heck of a lot more writing then I ever did before -- via chat rooms and e-mails and instant messages. I started participating in an online role playing community that demanded things be spell checked (and to a lesser extent grammar checked). Because of this my spelling made vast improvements. I learned tricks to remember how to spell words and to break them down into bits that made them easier to spell. I could spell words like "appropriate" that always gave me trouble before. I always ran my stuff through a spell checker before it ever got posted to the community.

Well, today I spend significantly less time role playing and only with people who don't care too much if a word is spelled wrong here or there. So I've become lax a little in making sure every single word is correct. I still type as much as I ever did (work, emails, chatting, etc).

For the last year, I have seen a creeping number of errors that I'm making that are not spelling errors. I am switching whole words out for other words. Sometimes they start with the same letter, or have the same number of letters in them. Sometimes they sound similar to what I was trying to use and sometimes there is no relation at all. I know what I want to say, but what gets typed out is not that.

An example happened this morning. I was "singing" lyrics to a friend and typed:

Baby you're a firework,
Come on, some 'em what you're worth!
Come on, let your colors burst!

The correct lyric is "show 'em what you're worth". The song said that, I knew that in my head, thought I spelled it that way and it only until after I had sent the instant message to my friend that I realized I hadn't.

This happens at least once a day, with regular conversational sentences.

I type pretty fast and I'm only partly reading what I'm typing. The other time I'm thinking about what else I want to say.

Am I just going too fast and not paying enough attention/concern at what I'm writing? Is it just muscle memory in my fingers? Could something be going on inside my brain?

It bothers me a little bit since this isn't the norm. I've been typing for over ten years, why do I suddenly substitute whole words when I think I'm writing the right ones?

I haven't noticed any problems speaking the right words, as far as I know. Not any more then I feel is normal anyways (how many times do you reach out for a word to say and end up picking something with a similar meaning? That's normal, right?)

You are not my doctor. I'm asking if this is something to see a doctor about or if you think I'm overreacting?
posted by royalsong to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you are worried about it, which I would say you were since you took the time to type it up in metafilter, why don't you make an appointment with your local university's psychology department. More than likely they have neurological testing facilities to help you track down the issue.
posted by TheBones at 10:46 AM on February 1, 2011

I don't think you're overreacting. I do the same thing all the time. Maybe I'm wrong and we both need to see a doctor, but I really doubt it's anything to be concerned about. The most annoying effect it's had on my life is posting the wrong word in something on a site like MeFi, where I can't edit my post to correct it. But it's usually clear from context what I meant anyway.

I just attribute this to the human brain's fuzzy-logic way of dealing with abstractions like language. It's bound to glitch every now and then, but it's harmless.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 10:46 AM on February 1, 2011

Hmm, maybe I should've said I do think you're overreacting. Another brain glitch!!
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 10:47 AM on February 1, 2011

Are you sure autocorrect isn't changing the word/s for you?
posted by marimeko at 10:48 AM on February 1, 2011

Best answer: This happens a lot to me for muscle-memory words. Words that I type often, like names of friends I email a lot or very common words (like some) somehow magically appear when I try to type something that starts with the same letter or letter grouping. It's like my brain is saying "I went to the petting zoo" and my hands are saying, "YOU FOOL, YOU WENT TO THE PETER BECAUSE YOU HAVE A FRIEND NAMED PETER."

So I don't really worry about it.

But the general rule should be if you're concerned, even a little bit, it's better to go to the doctor than not. (Assuming you have insurance and going to the doctor won't put you in debt, etc...)
posted by phunniemee at 10:56 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't worry! This happens to me fairly often, and it's just one of the several kinds of typing mistakes I can make when I'm typing fast and not paying full attention to my words on the screen. As you suggested, it is just that when you are typing very fast, relying on muscle memory in your fingers and not paying full attention to what you're currently typing, then your mind can get ahead of itself, and this lead to words that are omitted, misspelled, or replaced.

It's no big deal to me, and nothing I would ever see a doctor about. If it becomes too big a problem to you, you just need to slow down a little bit as you type, or pay more attention to your words as they hit the screen, to avoid these little slip-ups.
posted by datarose at 11:00 AM on February 1, 2011

I do this too, both in typing and in handwriting. (I also make bizarre phonetic spelling errors I would have never ever made in school, though only when I type. The other day I almost posted an answer with the word "relashionship," which would have made my inner second-grader cringe.) The last time I caught myself doing this, I realized I hadn't been looking at the words I'd been typing. I don't actually know where I was looking.

I find I do this more when I'm not paying attention to what I'm writing - either I'm distracted, or I'm taking notes from a speaker who's going too fast, or I'm so into what I'm writing that my mind's racing three paragraphs ahead while my fingers are still finishing the first sentence. If I write slowly, it doesn't happen.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:03 AM on February 1, 2011

First, a lot of browsers have built in spell-check now which makes it tons easier. I like to spell things correctly because it is an expectation I have of myself, I don't really care what the community standards are for where I'm writing.

Second, my guess is that it has something to do with your muscle memory. Since you started writing a lot more and started spelling better, you almost certainly started typing a lot faster. There are a lot of words that I type out without any real thought and every once in a while, I'll do the same thing. I can't really think of an example off the top of my head but I know what you're talking about. It is like your brain doesn't tell your fingers to type letter "a", type letter "l", "m", "o", "s", "t" but has now moved on sending the command "type the word almost" to your fingers. It seems like sometimes your fingers hear the wrong command or your brain sends the wrong one, I'm not sure which.

I usually just have to slow down a little bit and/or proof read each paragraph as I go. This is a good idea anyways because I've written down sentences that made sense to me as I typed them but didn't make any sense at all once I read them on the screen.

If nothing else, the folks in your university's psych department might have fun running some tests and you might find out something cool. Maybe some grad student needs a research project for a Ph. D or something.
posted by VTX at 11:08 AM on February 1, 2011

Best answer: In a really basic sense, language is a compromise between as much meaning as we can pack in and our brain and mouth's ability to process and produce. We take shortcuts for efficiency's sake, and sometimes it's the same corners we wear down time and again. As a linguist, I tend to notice what those individual patterns are, in myself and others. My personal phono-lexical annoying interference is the priming of a more frequent word or phrase that has the same phonological onset(s). So, if I am intending to say "Ray Jackendoff", I may actually say "Roman Jakobson" instead, because he's more known to me (you thought I was going somewhere else with this, didn't you? Ha, but no, this is a real mistake I made a couple weeks ago).

It's only one example you've given, but the substitution of "some" for "show" in that environment seems perfectly logical to me...there's phono-morphological harmony among the words that preceed and follow "show" (come, on, ____ , 'em). So the sound environment might be priming you. Might be interesting to start looking at your other word substitutions and the sound environments they show up in...do they always rhyme in some way? Is the interference always in some way related to the structure or sound of its lexical neighbors? If so, there's your pattern! And I'd be willing to bet that the more tired you are, the more you'd be susceptible to this type of priming error.

These things happen in all sorts of ways. I tend to favorite a lot of MeFi comments around here when they contain visual evidence of phonological interference – mispelling a word in a way that would make it rhyme with a nearby word...or some other manifestation of linguistic interference/diversion...there's always a pattern or rationale, even if we can't know what it is; but sometimes we can. When you can see what's going on, the reasons can be varied and wildly interesting (for very boring and nerdly values of "wildly").
posted by iamkimiam at 12:07 PM on February 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

Also, you'd be shocked to know how many speech/writing errors people make all the time. It could just be that your tendencies are more noticeable, as lexical substitutions (or, "Freudian slips") are way more marked and stigmatised than, say, consonant cluster reduction (to make for more rhythmic consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel speech, which is the tendency in English) or continuous voicing (which really goes unnoticed) or dropped punctuation (which can easily be passed off as someone's personal style rather than an indicator of something other than their norm), etc.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:16 PM on February 1, 2011

I must think about "data" and "people" a lot, because those are the two words that come flying off of my hands in all sorts of slightly inappropriate contexts.
posted by heyforfour at 1:58 PM on February 1, 2011

I have no information as to why this happens, but I do this too - mostly when I'm typing fast and using common words that are in my muscle memory. Like Metroid Baby, I occasionally make bizarre phonetic spellings, and like heyforfour "people" is one of my most commonly "autocorrected" word. Someone should do a study on us.
posted by fermezporte at 6:08 PM on February 1, 2011

I bet that there is a 99% chance that you are fine. But since this is AskMetafilter, I am going to pop in with a terrifying anecdote! This kind of thing started happening to me several years ago. It was sort of strange but I never worried about it. Then later I started noticing dyslexia problems, too--which I'd never had before. Anyways eventually I started having more problems like that in lots of ways. Eventually I got into a car wreck when I pulled through a four-way stop straight into another car which I swear I did not even SEE. My brain! It was messing up in increasingly large ways!

Eventually it was discovered that I had developed nocturnal seizures at some point, and so I hadn't gotten a good night's sleep in years, and so I had been suffering from chronic sleep deprivation, and so my brain had been having some increasing trouble with doing stuff. And the first thing I ever noticed was those weird spelling problems.
posted by sunnichka at 9:31 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

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