In trying to make sense of the world around us, our brains have evolved to do some very odd things. The more we learn about our cognitive processes, the more it seems we have inherited a very weird wetware set, filled with bizarre and misleading foibles.

While most of the cognitive errors I reference here work against us — especially as investors — today’s example of a cognitive process works strangely in the brain’s favorSpelling don’t matter. Comprehension remains essentially unchanged, even when all letters of a word are totally mixed up — just so long as the first and last letters are in their proper place.

Spelling, it seems, is irrelevant to comprehension. Try this jumble below and see if the flawed wetware you call a brain can read it:

>

>

Pretty cool, eh? Quite a marvelous set of neurons you got there . . .

Category: Apprenticed Investor, Psychology

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

44 Responses to “Brain Oddities: Spelling is Irrelevant to Comprehension”

  1. freejack says:

    “Spelling, it seems, is irrelevant to comprehension”

    Especially if most of the words you jumble are only 4 to 6 letters long and you never mess with the first letter of the word.

  2. AHodge says:

    Big Picture baby

  3. Ilya says:

    Gamrmer d’not mettar mcuh netiehr!

  4. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    This example goes hand-in-hand with our ability to stop deciphering (sounding-out) words as we learn to read, and begin, instead, to recognize the code instantaneously as language.

  5. number2son says:

    Msot eclenlext.

  6. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    Oh yeah. . .

    It’s important to note that in the given example, not only do the first and last letters need to be correct, apparently all of the correct letters need to be present, albeit scrambled.

  7. Bruman says:

    Taths rlaely naet! Atluoghh, I hvae seen tihs berofe.

  8. red_pill says:

    fnuikcg azinamg

  9. Bruman says:

    On another trivia note… apparently latin in Caesar’s time had no spaces between words, which made it very difficult to read without sounding out the letters as you lookedatonelongstringoftextwithoutspaces.

    Part of spycraft was to have lip reading spies in your opponent’s camp, so that they could read messages that were sent to the leaders.

    One of Caesar’s great advantages, I’m told, is that he did not need to move his lips in order to read, and so was more difficult to spy on. In fact, he could say contrary things to what he was reading, so that anyone who did try to spy this way would actually get incorrect information.

    So maybe putting spaces between words was a way of improving security? ;-)

  10. cfischer says:

    Yes, if all the fsirt and lsat lertets are ucnhnaged, tehn any wrod wtih 3 lertets is esay and wrods with 4 lertets are olny stighly off. But cidsoner scantlifingy lightener lacixel citaniboms wtih recuded particletibidy and tulorbe cloud pilfertorae! (But consider significantly lengthier lexical combinations with reduced predictability and trouble could proliferate.)

  11. Arequipa01 says:

    Are you softening us up for some kind of Chomskian deep structures decompression?

    So we can instantaneously re-scramble misspelled words, but we can’t figure that the Mexican authorities are taking down every group but Los Zetas. Excellent, now I can do the jumble in today’s edition of The Daily Regress. Let’s see, maybe I can decode the following: “The identities of US dealers who had sold guns seized at Mexican crime scenes remain confidential under a law passed by Congress in 2003, the report said.”

    http://www.democracynow.org/2010/11/30/noam_chomsky_wikileaks_cables_reveal_profound

    In Spanish they say: “El pez por la boca muere.” It’s a good saying.

  12. Todd says:

    I tried telling my 5th grade teacher that spelling didn’t count, that argument didn’t fly then. I doubt that it would now, but it would be fun to try again.

  13. Lugnut says:

    I would just like to go on record to ask if the term ‘wet-ware’ can be banished from the English language/lexicon. We are not cyberpunks. Its a friggin brain.

    Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. That is all.

  14. [...] simple test reveals that correct spelling is not necessary for someone to comprehend what they are reading: In trying to make sense of the world around us, our brains have evolved to do some very odd things. [...]

  15. jaymaster says:

    Hmmm. Is this post intended to give a pass to the introduction of “marcromon” below? :)

  16. Bob is still unemployed   says:

    The context of the word is also important. For example, look at the word “cluod” at the beginning of the scrambled text. I first read it as “cloud”, but quickly switched to “could” when the context did not make sense using “cloud”.

  17. low-tech cyclist says:

    Sure, I can make sense of the message, no problem. But I find my speed of comprehension suffers a bit, and I think that’s rather important.

  18. PDS says:

    “seclplhcek”!!!

  19. alnval says:

    As PW points out correct spelling in the sense that all the letters necessary to spell the word correctly apparently need to be present if you are to read what has been written. One wonders, however, how much mis-spelling this approach to written communication can tolerate before the whole things breaks down.

  20. drey says:

    Interesting, but I’d hate to see this become an excuse for allowing already miserable language skills to become even more miserable.

    Treat the language as you would your own body and appearance which is to say, with respect. At the very least you’ll come off smarter and classier.

    Anyone wish to ‘refudiate’ that observation?

  21. Kurzweil should plug this “Test” into his vaunted Machines..

    maybe, he’d find the ‘Singularity’ isn’t as near at hand as he sells it..

    http://search.yippy.com/search?input-form=clusty-simple&v%3Asources=webplus&v%3Aproject=clusty&query=Kurzweil+AI+Text-to-Speech

  22. funnymonkey says:

    This is old news, check it out: http://www.snopes.com/language/apocryph/cambridge.asp

    Also, I can’t find it at the moment, but I could have sworn that this had been debunked. Maybe it doesn’t work in other languages? Or languages that don’t use a roman alphabet? And it is limited to words of a certain length.

    But, also an example of how our brains are designed to attempt to make sense of the world.

    ~~~

    BR: I had no problem reading the gibberish =– thought it was fascinating

  23. ronald says:

    It’s called out of sequence processing.
    And yes modern Information processing systems can handle it.
    Kurzweil has no clue:
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/08/ray_kurzweil_does_not_understa.php

  24. wngoju says:

    Spelling doesn’t matter! I knew it! Take that, mom!

  25. I wonder if this is connected somehow to our ability to ‘read between the lines’

  26. rastafasta says:

    SPELLING DOES MATTER!

    Just watch this 3 min video of proof of why the above set of letter being jumbled up is hardly representative of this “fad” of spelling not mattering.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNStNUizxhE

  27. Jojo says:

    red_pill said: fnuikcg azinamg
    ——–
    I thnik tihs wlil be uefsul in gtetnig arunod bad wrod flitres on the ietnrent!

  28. nemo says:

    As I said to my 10-year-old niece who informed me that spelling doesn’t matter — you’re right, it doesn’t matter, as long as you’re happy with letting people think you’re an ignorant moron.

    I also had to tell her that if she misspells her friend’s name in an e-mail to that friend, then her friend might feel justifiably insulted.

  29. lippard says:

    The YouTube video in freejack’s comment is a must-watch.

  30. hammerandtong2001 says:

    Spelling correctly may, indeed, be irrelevant to comprehension.

    Spelling correctly, however, is the immediate sign of an educated person. Spelling correctly, on such mundane forms as job applications, remains important. Important for doing things like having a job, and writing a memo, etc.

    If you don’t believe me, just ask any one of 75 million American adults who are functionally illiterate.

    That’s right — over 35% of American adults are illiterate.

    .

    .

  31. ewmayer says:

    Who is this “Brian Oddities” and what makes him such an expert on the subject?

  32. PianoDoc says:

    Unfortunately, it would seem that many banking, finance, and government officials believe the same phenomenon holds true for numbers.

  33. kaleberg says:

    It used to be all over the subway in the 60s: “If u cn rd ts, u cn gt a gd jb & rn hi pay.” It was an ad for a course in court stenography using one of those little steno machines. It wasn’t big bucks, but a friend of the family worked as a court reporter and had a comfortable middle class existence.

  34. CitizenWhy says:

    Pronunciation don’t mean much neither.

    Just at the mall. Understood the Japanese guy in the food court when he said “Wa Mo Sa?” Easy enough, “Want more sauce?” Interesting. Japanese (or is it Chinese?) words are made up of two-letter syllables which end in a vowel. So when this guy speaks Janglish he’s following Japanese usage, using half the English word. I bet he would be harder to understand if he attempted to pronounce the entire English words.

    But then again, Australians often speak in half words, often with y added at end.

    One place where spelling counts: Typing in yo UserName and Password.

  35. mr.bryce says:

    for some obscure reason it took me 5 aulact minutes before i deciphered aulaclty… everything else i could read fine…. WEIRD

  36. joeunrue says:

    I remember seeing this a few years ago so I googled the counter example. Try to magically skim over this example:

    Follow-up: Can You Raed Tihs? meal worms writes “A Slashdot article appearing last Monday, which reported on the claim that scrambled words are legible as long as first and last letters are in place, was circulated to the University of British Columbia’s Linguistics department. An interesting counter-example resulted:

    “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.”

    As demonstrated, a simple inversion of the internal characters results in a text which is relatively hard to decipher.”

  37. TaberMcF says:

    Hey dumbshit! yeah you freejack! Did you READ it, it says that you don’t mess with the first and last letter of a word, and btw, important, is more that 6 letters!

  38. pgn674 says:

    I made a program to test this, thinking this mixed up blurb may actually be carefully constructed. After using my program, which uses randomness to mix up the letters, it seems that this really does work. If you’d like to try it yourself: http://experiments.pgn674.com/scrambler.html

  39. freejack says:

    @TaberMcF

    Please adjust the dose of your psychotropics.

  40. zenospinoza says:

    Having spaghetti sauce on your tie doesn’t impact comprehension either, but it is still sloppy.

  41. victor says:

    A great source of grief for foreigners who learn English is spelling. Especially for native speakers of languages that have phonetic spelling such as Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Turkish, Romanian, Russian (never mind the cyrillic alphabet) to name only a few. In those languages, by and large, what you see written down is how it sounds. Try explaining to, say a Spaniard the word “Rough”: the chasm between how it sounds and how is spelled is diabolical…. Also the bastardization of the Latin alphabet is most confusing: all vowels are pronounced in capricious ways, the worst offender being how “E” and “I” have been butchered. Still, etymological spelling of the English language has not stopped the world from accepting it as the lingua franca of the planet, compliments of the British Royal Navy. No matter how you splel it….

  42. [...] word scramble problem seems to crop up every few years or something.  Brain Oddities has the recent version. We took a look at the problem in our NLP class in 2003, and I wrote a [...]