Typoglycemia

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Typoglycemia is a neologism given to a purported recent discovery about the cognitive processes behind reading written text. The word appears to be a portmanteau of "typo", as in typographical error, and "hypoglycemia". It is an urban legend/Internet meme that appears to have an element of truth to it.

The legend, propagated by email and message boards, purportedly demonstrates that readers can understand the meaning of words in a sentence even when the interior letters of each word are scrambled. As long as all the necessary letters are present, and the first and last letters remain the same, readers appear to have little trouble reading the text.

One email message reads as follows:

Original text Intended message
"I cdn'uolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg: the phaonmneel pweor of the hmuan mnid. 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. Scuh a cdonition is arppoiatrely cllaed Typoglycemia .

"Amzanig huh? Yaeh and you awlyas thguoht slpeling was ipmorantt."

"I couldn't believe that I could actually understand what I was reading: the phenomenal power of the human mind. 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. Such a condition is appropriately called Typoglycemia.

"Amazing, huh? Yeah and you always thought spelling was important."

However, the following example based on the same principle, but where all the letters are reversed rather than randomly jumbled, is much more difficult to read:

Original text Intended message
"Anidroccg to crad–cniyrrag lcitsiugnis planoissefors at an uemannd utisreviny in Bsitirh Cibmuloa, and crartnoy to the duoibus cmials of the ueticnd rcraeseh, a slpmie, macinahcel ioisrevnn of ianretnl cretcarahs araepps sneiciffut to csufnoe the eadyrevy oekoolnr." "According to card-carrying linguistics professionals at an unnamed university in British Columbia, and contrary to the dubious claims of the uncited research, a simple, mechanical inversion of internal characters appears sufficient to confuse the everyday onlooker."

No such research was carried out at Cambridge University. The creation of such email messages started with a letter to the New Scientist magazine from Graham Rawlinson of Nottingham University in which he discusses his Ph.D. thesis, suggesting to keep two first and final letters of each word:

Original text Intended message
"In a puiltacibon of New Scnieitst you could ramdinose all the letetrs, keipeng the first two and last two the same, and reibadailty would hadrly be aftcfeed. My ansaylis did not come to much beucase the thoery at the time was for shape and senqeuce retigcionon. Saberi's work sugsegts we may have some pofrweul palrlael prsooscers at work. The resaon for this is suerly that idnetiyfing coentnt by paarllel prseocsing speeds up regnicoiton. We only need the first and last two letetrs to spot chganes in meniang." "In a publication of New Scientist you could randomise all the letters, keeping the first two and last two the same, and readability would hardly be affected. My analysis did not come to much because the theory at the time was for shape and sequence recognition. Saberi's work suggests we may have some powerful parallel processors at work. The reason for this is surely that identifying content by parallel processing speeds up recognition. We only need the first and last two letters to spot changes in meaning."

Apps[edit]

There are several smartphone apps that were released to convert normal text to this scrambled form that users can still read. One example for iOS devices is Message Scrambler. For Android devices: Typo Words.

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