Monday, 10 April 2006
Something and nothing

Somebody kindly sent me this via email: 

The inrcbedilbe pweor of the hmuan mnid


Aoccdrnig to a  rscheearch  porgamrme at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht  oredr  ltteers in a wrod  rae, eth olny iprmoatnt tihng is  taht the frist adn lsat ltteer be ni het rghit pclae,  ecxpet  fro ferquent wrods leik het, na, ect.


The rset can be a tatol mses nad  yuo can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos  not raed ervey lteter by istlef, ubt  het  wrod as a  wlohe. 

Readers may well have seen this before – these things tend to do the rounds. Three questions:


  1. Does it work for music? A piece starts and finishes on the right note, juggles the ones in between and still remains recognisable? The answer is probably not, but it would be quite good fun to try. You never know, there may be some kind of award for it - a musical equivalent of the Turner Prize.
  2. Does it work for clothes? I heard somewhere that if a woman has the right handbag nobody notices anything else she is wearing. Again, I suspect not.
  3. Is it true, or is it a bit of a con?  

To answer this last question I had to resort to Google. Now Google and I have not always been the best of friends. Not content with denting my ego, Google would insist on correcting what it perceived as my poor spelling. Eventually, I chanced upon what on the Internet is commonly called a fisking of this piece, from some “reading experts” on a website called the Illinois Loop.


It is argued that this paragraph has been used to discredit the phonics method of teaching children to read, by proponents of the whole language (WL) method.  

Once you have mastered the alphabetic principle thoroughly, it is possible for you to perform error corrections upon encountering misspelled words. This is because, being well-read and thoroughly acquanted with the vast body of correctly spelled words, the competent decoder can recall the very few (or possibly only one) word(s) that could possibly fill the position in which a misspelled word appears. The WL advocate would fool us into believing that this is done primarily through context and whole-word recognition, but ultimately upon being asked precisely how the reader determines what the whole word is without first decoding it, or how to establish a context in the first place, he is at a complete loss. 

I never thought of myself as a competent decoder, but that’s because I’m not a reading expert. 

Almost universally, the listener doesn't take the time to think about the fact that he himself, being a fully experienced decoder, speller, and speaker of the language, is in no way analogous to a child who is learning to read. And so amazingly the listener, being accustomed as all of us are to accepting the apparent "reality" of every sound bite we hear on TV, doesn't stop to think that the example obviously WOULDN'T work on a child who is learning to read, despite the fact that the WL advocate is trying to "prove" that it would. 

Fair enough. I do wish that reading and other “experts” would learn to write clear, simple prose. Another commenter makes the point far better as follows: 

It makes a difference, too, how severely you mangle the letter order. Try this version:

Adocrnicg to rrheashecc by the Litunsgiic Dmrepnteat at Cgmdabrie Uvtinseriy, it dsen'ot mtetar in waht oerdr the lteerts in a wrod are, the olny inpeamott tnihg is taht the fsrit and lsat lteter be at the rghit palce. The rset can be a ttoal mses and you can slitl raed it wtouhit pobelrm. Tihs is buseace the hmaun mnid deos not raed eervy lteter by iestlf, but the wrod as a wolhe.


This convinces. It is a bit of a con, but quite a good one.


Apparently something called “synthetic phonics” is now making a comeback in schools. This was probably how I learned to read, but I have absolutely no recollection of the process. A taxi driver once told me he had never learned to read. This was a London black cab, so he would have needed to pass “The Knowledge”, a rigorous test of his knowledge of London streets. This takes literate taxi drivers at least a year, and even they develop a larger than average hippocampus in the process. How clever this man must have been to do this without being able to read. What might he have achieved had been able?  

Posted on 04/10/2006 7:42 AM by Mary Jackson
10 Apr 2006
Send an emailMarisol Seibold
Does it work for music?

One can mess with a lot of parameters and, if the piece is sufficiently well known, still capture its connotative power without copyright infringement, or at any rate, just blatantly ripping it off.

Seems to happen a lot with things like the theme from Jeopardy or Mission Impossible, though I'm also reminded of Victor Borge playing the William Tell Overture with the sheet music upside down...

I heard somewhere that if a woman has the right handbag nobody notices anything else she is wearing.

Couldn't tell you-- I don't know that I've ever had the "right" handbag. But that's an accessory that, when properly oversized, garish, and expensive-looking, can draw attention away from its wearer being dressed like anything short of Uncle Sam.

Is it true, or is it a bit of a con?

Works for me. The odd thing is, the faster I try to read the words with the letters out of order, the easier it is... which would explain why those quick re-reads of what I've just written always seem to let a typo or two slip by.

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