Zyra's front page //// Truth //// Misconceptions //// Language //// Site Index

You can still read Text if the letters are Mixed UP?
TEXT is supposed to be readable even if every word has had the letters shuffled and mixed up (except the first and last letter of each word).


This modern folklore tale has been around for a few years, and you sometimes see it "proved" by an email message in which the letters of each word are mixed up, and yet oddly you can still read it. Case proven, eh? Well not really, no. It's not scientific. This needs looking at with closer scrutiny, and that's what I'm going to give you a chance to do.

First though, the theory: Take any prose, text, words with meaning on a page, and muddle it up thus: For every word, the first and last letters remain in the same positions, first and last, but all the other letters are randomly mixed up. Then you show it to someone who's never seen it before and see if they can read it. Odd as it may seem, according to the theory, they CAN read it, even though there is a considerable amount of mixing-up in the text. There's more about this at www.toxicdrums.com/typoglycemia.html including some interesting history. Meanwhile, there's more about it here...

Having "proved" the initial contention by a simple example, the proponents of the theory then go on to say that the human mind is so good that it can figure out and understand text that's mixed up to an almost arbitrary level, and that the extra information in the spelling is irrelevant to the understanding of the text, and so on.

But look, this is an enlightened age of science we are living in, not a hearsay world where rumour or belief has sway. You don't need to take anyone's word for something just because they speak as if they are some sort out authority figure. You can test things for yourself. (This is also good because it means folk aren't so likely to be fooled by charismatic political figures out to betray them, religious pundits out to make money out of believers' faith, and slick spivvy salesmen trying to flim-flam them into signing up to something dodgy).

Well, you've probably seen a demonstration email or two, or some text on a board or on a screen somewhere, and it's indeed mixed up and shuffled and yet you can still read it. However, the serious question is: Is this true in the GENERAL CASE? I mean, it would be easy enough for someone to fabricate an example and show it to you and hope you'd believe it would always work. In truth, when put to scientific scrutiny, it might be true or it might not be. Let's find out!

There is a computer program, WRODS, written by Sente Software (whose speciality is actually fuss-free label printing software), and you can download it FREE and have a go. You can write some text, or copy&paste some text (such as this page for example), and then the program will shuffle it up for you, and then you can see if it's readable.

In case you're interested, here's my theory: For simple text with short words, being read by someone who's quite clever, the text tends to be transparently easy to understand. However, if the text contains many long words, then the reader has a bit of difficulty, and unless they're supremely good at anagrams, the quality of reception is a bit like early digital TV on a miserably drizzly foggy day. Also, if the reader has a "reading age" which is less than top of the class, or even if their reading is quite good but they lack the years of experience which come from age, then the mixed-up text is less than optimally decipherable in the general case. Of course none of this can be seen from the trivial examples sent as "did you know?" comments, as they have most likely been carefully crafted and tweaked to make them readily decodable by even the least erudite of readers.

Anyway, don't take my word for it: Try it yourself! Here, have a free downloadable program to test the theory and find out for yourself! Here it is: WRODS

Have fun!

Other truths and misconceptions are listed for you to have a look at too!