What's with "There are a.."
June 14, 2005 4:56 PM   Subscribe

I have a habit of typing "There are a..." when my fingers are hovering over the keyboard waiting for my brain to make up its mind what to write. Why is this, is it a textual "um", like in speech? And why those words? And does anyone else do it?
posted by Navek Rednam to Writing & Language (17 answers total)
I have to type the same password about 10 or so times a day, and I usually have to type it before I type anything else. So I experience this same kind of activity. I don't think its an "um" though, I think its more likely muscle memory or a muscle reflex. Maybe your fingers are more eager to type than your brain would like?
posted by pwally at 5:03 PM on June 14, 2005

No, but I think everyone has a bunch of these habits. For instance, I verbally say "I'm gonna to take and get my laptop from the car" instead of saying "I'm gonna to get my laptop from the car"...
posted by SpecialK at 5:09 PM on June 14, 2005

I know what you mean. It's not just that phrase. Other phrases include:

"Is this where..."
"Ok, so I'm going to write about.."

The key is that your fingers start writing but they don't know what they are writing about yet. So, they go into exposition mode - starting to put together the introduction before your brain is actually called upon to work. I think it's the written equivalent of someone saying slowly:

"Let's see here..."

so that they can start talking but also buy themselves time to think. In essence, they are saying nothing. Likewise with the writing. You are giving your fingers the command "start typing" without giving them any hint of what they should be typing about. So, you get a generic "stalling" phrase.
posted by vacapinta at 5:20 PM on June 14, 2005

I used to type out "list". My parents put me in a BASIC course when I was 10...
posted by signal at 6:21 PM on June 14, 2005

I start too many sentences with "No, yes, like, I mean...".

I am so ashamed.
posted by stray at 6:23 PM on June 14, 2005

We have two big systems at my work. One of them requires a user-pass login, and the other one defaults the user and puts the cursor right into the password field. About three times a week, I type into the username field of one system the password of the other system. Security design flaw between chair and keyboard.

We, as a species, have evolved to a point where a complex grouping of sounds can be memorized and labeled by the mind as one unit of meaning, i.e. a word. In that same way, we also memorize groups of words and assign them one meaning. It's not much different than muttering "hold on a minute" to yourself. The only difference, really, is that you're verbalizing with your fingers, not your voice box. It's interesting to ponder how the keyboardization of our communication is going to effect the languages over the next hundred years.

Anyway, great question. I think what you're experiencing is an automatic verbalization that results from your mind making a association between a context and a default response. Instead of typing "There is a", I type "If a man were to go".
posted by squirrel at 6:30 PM on June 14, 2005

I know this phenomenon well. Strange as it sounds - and I have no idea where it comes from - I always type: "The monkey, the monkey, the monkey".
posted by bunglin jones at 7:07 PM on June 14, 2005

I find that I type negatives a lot, like "isn't" and "doesn't" when trying to type "is" and "does". Just now, I had to stop myself. It's just habit.
posted by interrobang at 7:47 PM on June 14, 2005

My hands buy my mind time to think all the time when typing, but not writing. In fact i'm not thinking at all right now, but this is what you should normally expect.
posted by Dean Keaton at 9:01 PM on June 14, 2005

I make lots of dumb spelling errors when I type because I'm hearing the words in my head, and, well, "to" and "too" sound the same...

I think it's also true for most of the people here that we're used to typing and do it pretty quickly/naturally so that we type faster than we can really think, sometimes, just like you'd talk faster than you could think if you didn't use words like "umm" or, in some cases, "like".
posted by dagnyscott at 9:18 PM on June 14, 2005

I do that too! For me the phrase is "the main problem is..." and I don't know why I type that. Every time.
posted by inksyndicate at 11:35 PM on June 14, 2005

Computer has corrupted me; I to, like dagnyscott, end up writing "to" when I mean "too", and "their" when I mean "there" and "it's" when I want "its", &tc.

As far as automatic typing, I guess mine would be "I guess". Ick.

(Its all because of teh computers! Its there fault for making me too do it!)
posted by taz at 1:39 AM on June 15, 2005

What follows is totally true. This is what I type on the keyboard when, for instance, the computer is booting and accepting no input. Often I "type" it without actually pressing down on the keys. In fact, this is probably the first time I've actually typed this phrase so I can see it.

"There once was a man named Ronald McDonald who lived in a house on a tall hill"

Now that I've come out in the open about that, I feel better.
posted by Jimbob at 4:33 AM on June 15, 2005

I write a lot of letters and emails to customers at work and Word always has to correct my grammar for missing out 'that'. It drives me insane because Microsoft are always right! (mac girl at heart).
posted by floanna at 5:22 AM on June 15, 2005

I think that you type that phrase because it's a fun one to type. Something about the "ere" "are" combo is satisying to type for some reason. I just realized that "reason" is a fun word to type, but it's not a very good way to start a sentence.
posted by fletchmuy at 7:08 AM on June 15, 2005

Mine is "This is a..."
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:14 AM on June 15, 2005

If I have to type dummy text, I'll use my own name, but I often rattle out "asdfasdfasdfasdf" when I need some text. I was a finger-strummer all through grade school.
posted by NickDouglas at 7:06 PM on June 15, 2005

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