Looking Glass Language

a word bird reflects on life & language

Brid: I know how this looks, but it wasn’t me…

Do you ever feel guilty about things that aren’t your fault? I do, and when I saw this photo on Grammarly’s Facebook page yesterday I had a flutter of panic: what did I misspell?

(It’s the stuff of nightmares: a post on Grammarly about a misspelling by the word bird…)

I imagine that the artist himself wasn’t an English-speaker (he probably saw ‘Brid’ not as a word, but as a shape). But that doesn’t explain why the US wholesaler, the warehouse assistants who unpacked the boxes, and the shop assistants who placed the items on the shelves failed to pick up on it.

Given the first and last letters of a word, and other visual clues such as its length and outline shape, it seems that our minds are all too capable of replacing the jumbled-up form on the page with the proper word. This act of lexical processing reminds me of a piece of intriguing trivia that did the rounds a few years ago (purportedly from a study by Cambridge University, although its provenance is uncertain):

“Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”

The fact that most* people find it easy enough to read this shows how adept our minds are at making sense of non-sense. Which explains why proofreading is so damned difficult, and how mistakes like Brid for Bird can happen.


*I have yet to meet anyone who cna’t raed wrdos wrtiten lkie tihs, so the frequent, unverified claim that only 55 out of 100 people can do so (see blog post below, for example) seems far-fetched.


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