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Crabby Old Lady's Typing/Finger/Word Problem

In sending an email recently, Crabby Old Lady intended to write, "That works. Let's meet there at noon on Tuesday,” but when she scanned for typos before hitting "send", this is what she saw:

"Than works. Let's meat there at non on Tuesday."

Okay, that “non” is a simple typo, hitting the “o” key once instead of twice. But the other two, “than” and “meat”, are a different kind of error – mental rather than physical.

This is not a new phenomenon for Crabby Old Lady. It has been happening for several months, maybe even a year or more and it happens pretty much every time she types out something longer than six or eight words.

Crabby finally gave this issue some (semi-)serious thought when, a few days ago, she read a review of the last book from beloved American poet laureate, Donald Hall, who died in June at age 89.

As you might imagine, the new book, A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety (which is sitting on a table across the room from Crabby along with more than a dozen others she hasn't found time to read yet) is largely about the indignities of growing old.

The reviewer, Dwight Garner, quotes some short passages about certain age-related losses Hall reports on and although they don't plague Crabby yet at age 77, she can feel them or something similar nipping at her heels:

“You are old when the waiter doesn’t mention that you are holding the menu upside down...when you guess it’s Sunday because the mail doesn’t come. It might be Christmas...In your eighties you take two naps a day. Nearing ninety you don’t count the number of naps.”

But the excerpt that had Crabby Old Lady groaning aloud in recognition is this:

“Striving to pay the mortgage in the late 1970s and ’80s, some years I published four books,” he says. “Now it takes me a month to finish 700 words.”

Whatever may have slowed Hall's writing (Garner doesn't say), for Crabby, it is the typing/finger/word problem. Imagine if every other sentence in a story or email or letter you write contained one or two or three such errors.

That is what Crabby Old Lady is up against these days and it takes an inordinate amount of time to correct them.

With the hope of mitigating these errors, Crabby tried to analyze what is happening when she writes and discovered several types of word problems.

Sometimes the mistake is a rhyme as in substituting “to” for “who”, “case” for “face.” (All examples are real errors Crabby has made.)

Another common mistake is synonyms. Crabby perfectly well knows the difference among to, two and too but often types the wrong one.

Mixing up “than” and “that” happens almost every day. If you are a touch typist like Crabby, “N” and “T” are typed with different hands but they both do use the first finger. Is the brain signal going to the wrong hand?

Too often the mistake just comes out of nowhere. “Of” for “in”, “car” for “cabinet”, “screen” for “fork,” etc.

Who knows what that kind of mistake is about and the thing is, when Crabby is writing, she visualizes the words she is using. So if the word needed is “fork,” that image is in her mind while she types “screen.” How can that be?

Recently a crazy new one turned up, a weird spelling out of nowhere: “plase” for “place.

At last “plase” in Crabby's word error list, is the problem of omitting words - just plain skipping them so that the first half of this sentence might look like, “At last “plase” Crabby's word error list, is problem of omitting words – plain skipping them that...”

These are also the kinds of errors the eye might skip over when reading so Crabby doesn't always catch them all. Even reading stories twice, she can miss them – you may have noticed in some blog posts.

Spell check, of course, is mostly useless because it checks only for correct spelling, not usage and it certainly won't tag missing words.

So should Crabby Old Lady worry about these mistakes?

U.S. media makes sure with their daily servings of commercials and Alzheimer's reports that anyone over the age of 45 or 50 is terrified that every time they misplace their reading glasses, forget what time they are due at an appointment or lose their train of thought it is the beginning of dementia. Crabby refuses to take their bait.

She is not unaware that a large number of elders are diagnosed with dementia and she carries on a kind of relaxed monitoring system of her brain activity, enough so that she recently asked her physician about these mistakes.

Not to worry he says. And anyway, Crabby seems to be getting through daily life without any alarming cognitive issues. What she doesn't like, what she really resents every day is the extra time her typing/finger/word problems take up.

It doesn't happen when she writes with a pen in hand. How about you?


Same here and no problem with hand written material as well. Really slows my online processes down. One of my sisters sends me a text a few times a month that cannot be deciphered (I just spelled deciphered wrong, ack!)

I rarely write with a pen these days. I have a tremor -- which I can partly calm, sometimes, by thinking at my hand just right -- but the calming is not sustainable for long.

I have always been a terrible typist, too. I never learned how to touch type properly in school. Only the girls destined to be secretaries got that course. At first, working as a programmer early in the punch card days, I hardly ever needed a keyboard. Once in a long while (when I would have to fix one card in a deck) a slow careful hunt and peck on the keypunch machine did the trick. Later, when the job started to use a terminal connected to a mainframe, accuracy still mattered more than speed. Besides, I also needed to hold a pencil curled in two fingers of my right hand to mark up the printed listing. So I developed a weird personal approach to typing. Just watching me gives severe headaches to anyone trained in touch typing! I made lots of errors, but I also had a deep learned compulsion to check and fix all of them before hitting enter. This habit transferred forward into all my later online activity. It makes me maddeningly slow, but accurate.

Or rather, it used to! I'm still maddeningly slow. I still check. Yet lately, I've started seeing all of the mistakes you've listed, and more, cropping up in text that has supposedly passed my checks!

Part of the problem may be the self correct function in your word processing program. Sometimes the program makes changes that are strange.

Crabby would be happy to blame technology but that's not it. She never, ever has enabled the autocorrect function for just reason you state.

This happens to me too. I blame it on my iPad. Is it possible it’s NOT my iPad??? Oy!

Oh goodness, do I relate to all of the above...........even tho' I took typing in high school & did well. 60 words per.........but with age & using the PC it's a struggle. I don't text.....scared to & really don't want or need to. One other thing I do a lot is put double letters at the beginning & end of words, Go figure. Getting old aint' for sissies! Dee (:

I am noticing that I use the backspace or delete more than any other key. Just now, I used it three times on that first sentence! I am a semi-touch typist--not really skilled, but functional. I always make mistakes when someone is looking over my shoulder, too.

I can no longer write notes with a pen or pencil that are as legible as they should be. My MS is making my finger tips numb, and I also have the same problem in writing as I do with typing--sometimes I am thinking ahead to what I want to write, and I garble the writing of the word that I am working on.

Understand all that is shared about aging
so very well.
It is all happening and more to come,
just need to accept and find it difficult.
This one is the lucky one, noticed not many changes until 79
and now with 84 around the corner
so much is happening.

Yes to all of it. I proofread over and over and still find mistakes. My favorite mistake is typing Super Bowel instead of Super Bowl. Kind of works for me.

This is nothing to do with aging. Lots of it is autocorrect that is easy to miss.
Some is due to not as agile of finger movement.
And some is due to being in a hurry and a quick glance doesn't catch the errors.

I don't worry about it, as I figure most people can decipher what I meant to write unless it's really bizarre. Sometimes I'll follow with a quick correction of my own, if I think it's necessary.

I truly think it's a feeling of having too type fast because you have so much to say...

See...I typed too instead of to

I've been using computer keyboards for 50+ years and might expect my accuracy to improve with all that practice. Nope. My keying error rate has increased, noticeably. It is necessary to proofread carefully, and then proofread a second time. Bleh!

Probably not the whole story but autocorrect figures prominently in my errors. Sometimes humorously, sometimes just annoyingly! Carry on!

My grammar, spelling, and sentence structure problems occur more often when handwriting than when typing. I've gone back to read past journals and found a plethora of such errors. I don't reread my journals for editing purposes so don't find these errors until months or years later. However, I find similar errors when proofreading a note I've written on a greeting card. I've actually had to throw away cards due to my poor writing. That is vexing.

Mistakes, omits, and spelling! Oh My!
Like you, Ronni, at 81 I'm feeling a bit like "Alice in Aging Land". I have been aware of it for a while and as an old nurse kept trying to fix it, or at least understand it. The spelling and omitting parts or entire words doesn't occur in handwriting so the ever curious brain keeps wondering.

Handwriting is less of an option now due to fatigue and tremors. The at first readable script gets tiny and tinier as I proceed. OK, I get that. Then when I broke my right wrist last year and became a slow 2 finger, all caps, typist mistakes did not happen. It must be "My Keyboard and Me"... sounds like a great Rap title doesn't it.

First I thought it was that I think faster than I type and the brain thinks it has already been done...maybe? Or like an earlier commenter wrote, I thought the frequent automatic upgrades and changes in my Chrome and Gmail were just too darned eager to help me. But I tend to leave out entire pronouns a lot and helpful spellcheck is helpless there.

So now I simply rely on proof reading virtually anything I write twice. I answered many letters a day for 5 years on The Elder Wisdom Circle while nearly house bound caring for my husband. I learned from another Elder to simply change the size or font to proof my own typing. Otherwise you tend to read what you 'think' you wrote, thus changing the size or shape of the letters makes it a fresh read. It really helps me.

I agree with Mary's assessment of the situation. I would have written very much the same thing, but she said it all, so I will only add "ibid" to what she wrote.

I continuously find myself blaming age on the fact that a word may not come forth easily and it may very well be because of the aging process, but when I hear a thirty something or a forty something having the same problem, I reflect on our technological age and how it is changing the way we think and the way we interact in our world.

Same with forgetting, similar to not being able to conjure up the proper word, but somewhat different or the idea that time is flying by and then I hear twenty somethings complain about the same thing and again, I wonder, is it the technological age we live in?

I don't know that we have really studied how computers interact with our brain waves. There have been some studies on how television affects brain waves (not nearly enough, however, in my opinion).

Having worked in the field of brain re-stimulation in the aging, I do know that the more one interacts with a piece of knowledge, the deeper the, if you will, riverlet of that piece of knowledge cuts into your brain. In this day and age of Google, as much as I love it, one need not retain any information beyond a key word. I would think that would affect the way we process, whether in typing, reading, or divulging information. I wonder about the younger generations and what that means for their retention abilities. On the other hand, I also find that how the younger generation approach their world, when they are so inclined, is by far more sophisticate and intelligent than I remember my generation being.

Yes to all of the above. Insanely frustrating to someone who worked all her life as editor/proofreader. I never was a very good typist. Never took a formal typing class -- a waste of time for someone wanting solid college credits and never intending to be anyone's secretary. (Who knew computers were coming?) I can't seem to type a single sentence without pausing to correct something. Which is still no guarantee I'll catch all the errors. And the ones that make it into print in a comment or something. Ack! Horrifying! And I never notice it until 2 seconds after I hit "enter."

My inner grammarian just told me, belatedly, that I should have typed "never notice them" instead of "never notice it."

I have noticed a similar thing: I have the exact word in my mind, but end up tying another one. It's not auto-correct, since I don't write in a word processor program (just use that to edit). Not sure why it's happening -- like a disconnect between what my brain is thinking and fingers are typing.

I'm a fast touch-typist and I absolutely HATE texting on phones since you must resort to hunt-and-peck. Frustrating! Plus, the auto-correct on that truly drives me nuts! A.I. has a ways to go, methinks, if auto-correct is any measure! (ha, ha)

Oh God, yes. First I forgot how to spell. But now I'm doing weirder things with words. I'm fairly sure I am not demented but just not as perfect (ha!) as I used to be. I had to have an MRI on my brain and neck two weeks ago. It was normal except for aging atrophy. When my regular doctor, whom I love, gave me the printout, she said, "They told me the same thing when I was 50 and I was really mad. Especially since the radiologist was 20 years older and probably had an even more atrophied brain. (It's normal, by the way, as you age.)

Great subject! Well . . . eckshully (sic) . . . I have always been a very fast typist, and before 1992, when I got my first computer, I made NONE of these mistakes. I think that the fault really lies in the major speed increase made possible by computer keyboards, as opposed to the typewriter ones. Since it's possible to type faster on computer keyboards, we do, only it allows our subconscious (that red-headed bulb-nosed clown just out of sight) to throw in whatever as our fingers race along.

Thank you, thank you for mentioning Donald Hall, one of my heroes. Ronni, you will certainly remember the piece (Out the Window, in the New Yorker, In it he describes being in D.C. to collect the National Medal of Art and taking a side trip in his wheelchair, with a friend, to the National Gallery, where a museum guard had a conversation with him about Henry Moore, about whom Hall had written a book. Hall didn't say that to the guard, thinking it would sound egotistical. An hour later, in the museum cafe, the guard spotted him, and walked over and said, smiling, "Did we have a nice din-din?"

It is my go-to story about gross ageism in action.

Oh yes to Crabby's typing problems. I SO identify with that, and even when I read back over the text I miss typos (argh).
And how about the increase of "klutziness". Does Crabby have problems with that? Loss of fingerprints, for instance. It isn't just turning pages. I couldn't get my obglitory fingerprints to show for the drivers license, etc. Still the license issued and I am still mobile at 89 thanks be!
I remind myself to be grateful for the stretch as I bend over to pick up something dropped or knocked over for the 100th time or wipe up a spilled something on the floor. Life is, however, still sweet.

While I was reading all these sometimes funny responses [funny as in ha-ha, not weird] -- I started to think about my dear many-years-long friend who lives in the moors of Yorkshire -- and who is now 80 and yet has never written me a letter on the computer. She has a computer, but doesn't really like it. So I am faced with interpreting her scrawl, which slows me down a lot, but I really do get a good deal more out of what she is saying, enjoy it more, stop and think about it more. In other words, living the way I do when I go to visit her, and we move at the pace one mostly sees in the moors, long, slow walks either there or in nearby villages and towns. We talk a lot. We tell each other stories, think together about the history of our very long friendship..

Back to writing vs. typing: I too use my computer a whole lot, for letters, but also for things I am writing. My friends do the same - many of them have spell-check [which I do not], and I am often wildly amused by the funny things that show up [one of the recent examples, from a friend with whom I correspond daily, was reporting on a visit to her eye doctor, who recommended she put warm "clothes" on her eyes for a half-hour each day---] [ok, that's a typo, but still, what a great picture emerged in my sometimes giggly mind].

And by the way: I don't believe, in the enormous number of years of my friendship with my British friend, EVER seeing a misspelled word. It takes time to read her, but that is part of the fun and delight I get out of hearing from her.

Anyway, a purpose of a computer and - a phrase I despise, - "word processing" -- is, after all, speed, right? But speed has never worked for me - in the swimming pool or on a hike or whatever, I am never likely to hurry. And yes, I do what all of you seem to do, I proof-read, re-read, 2 or even 3 times.

And still I make mistakes. And often feel philosophical enough to enjoy the mistakes I find, in what I or others have written. Great food for the imagination!

I offer no answers to these dilemmas, which I think we all experience, maybe increasingly maybe age-related. Maybe they produce frustration in us, maybe even fear, but for once, I am inclined to lean towards laughter. Or at least a couple of flights of imagination.

ERROR --- and this, after three re-readings and revisings:

first sentence in last paragraph: "maybe increasingly maybe age-related" sigh. But maybe I needed more "maybes," because how am I to know what is what in the world..

Same mistakes pen in hand, plus penmanship is going downhill. I'll be 79 in October.

Seems like a century ago I was an editor for a very large telecommunication company. My responsibility was to authenticate the accuracy of the information but also to improve the grammar. Finally, I was to rearrange sentence structure, in most cases, so the document could be translated into 18 foreign languages.

At the time I used Grammatik a commercially available program (the company would not buy for me) to first review the document before I put my hands on it. It was a godsend!

As time went by I learned to adapt to MSoft's Spellcheck. There were many more errors creating by the program requiring rewrites. Some were funny: my coeditor's first name was Mario. Spellcheck would correct Mario and replace the word with Manic. This forced me to always re-read.

Today I am using Grammarly - a Chrome product - for which I am very pleased. Perhaps this would help you.

Fist I had trouble finding the word (usually and adverb) I wanted and finally resorting to the Thesaurus for a replacement, then I could no longer spell after years of being proud of my spelling ability and then came more typos. Now, added to those woes, are missing letters. wrong words, incorrect letters in a word or an additional letter that has to be deleted.

So I completely identify with everything you mentioned, Ronni. I don't know how many times I have had to backspace while writing this to make a correction. And yes, it does take time. One additional problem I have are arthritic fingers that have moved from their original position and hit the wrong keys when touch typing.

I think it's a combination of factors and everything slowing down is the biggest problem. The brain loses a lot of cognitive skills while at the same time our physical movements become slower. Both affect our typing I am sure.

I am beginning to wonder if it's worth the effort and am glad I no longer write a blog or I would be crazier than I am.

Hah! Just look at all these responses! We can't ALL be starkers.................can we? Well hells bells, if we are, then we are. This syndrome of which you speak has just gotten under way for me, nothing too unsettling or unnerving, just noticeable. And you're telling me it's going to get worse. Well, of course it is! Doesn't everything, mostly??? Well, no, there's the spirit, and though it takes a good bit of tending, it's always refuge.

At times, Salinda, when I hear myself muttering under the breath, "This is driving me crazy!" I try to remember it might be a very short trip.

I take some "for medicinal purposes only" comfort in Cervantes' opening lines in "The Man of La Mancha" for Don Quixote. "He brooded and brooded until he could lay down the melancholy burden of sanity."

There have been days when it seemed like an appealing decision. I just renamed my 10 y/o Honda...Rocinante, just in case. Tending our spirit, whatever that means for all of us, is what we still can do with style and accuracy.

Happens all the time. Misspellings, wrong words, skips, doubles..... I learned touch typing because my mother made me "in case you ever have to support yourself". In 1953 we had no inkling that this would become a very useful skill when computers took over our lives. Now I find that typos happen way more than ever before, a function of age, 82+, and failing eyesight. The very handy wavy red underline is my friend. (It just made me redo eyesight.)

I'm grateful that with the accessibility features on my computer, I can magnify enough to still use the keyboard, but those tiny keyboards on my cell phone are problematic. Luckily, the smart phones can be spoken to and my words, or something close to my words, appear in the text or email. While that's a great help it also requires a careful, time-consuming, magnified read over and sometimes creates some very strange words

Also, I used to be a cracker jack speller. No more. It's really frustrating to forget how to spell. Again, the red underline and Mr. Spellcheck or googling it are there to help but rub it in once more that another loss suffered in aging is pride.

I totally understand, Ronni. I am noticing this, too and I'm 63. But, my ability to remember names, which was never good, is getting worse. This afternoon, I was trying to remember the name of the singer/songwriter Judy Collins and all I could come up with was Judy. Both problems, I don't know if they are related or not, and, you seem to be very good with names, are worse when I am tired.

Some of those errors might be because of auto-correct (or as I call it 'that damn spell-check')..... I can't seem to figure out how to turn it off. Or maybe it's my rationalization for my typos (not my fault, the auto-correct did it!)

I use a program called GRAMMARLY when I do anything on my computer. It has extensions you can add to various browsers, and checks for things like passive or active wording, tense, sentence structure, doubled words, spelling, voice, etc. I find it much more accurate than the spelling and grammar checkers that come in most software. You can tell it to ignore things, too. There is a free version, for those who don't need heavy editing.

In my mid-forties I had chemo, and then was injured by a chemical exposure at work. Ever since, I have reversed letters both in typing and in handwriting. For a while I had a hard time signing my name without reversing letters. I had to learn to be very focused on what I was doing when signing checks, etc. Typing anything lengthy on the computer results in many, many reversed letter spelling errors, and is very time consuming. Why they can't make a spell checker that learns what my error patterns are and at least suggests viable options, I don't know.

The sister-in-law of a friend of mine works with dementia patients. She told us that it’s okay if you can’t remember where you put your car keys. It’s not okay if you have the keys in your hand and don’t know what they are for. We all lead pretty busy lives and forgetting where you last saw your library book is more a sign of distraction than the onset of dementia. However, having said that, it can be annoying when it happens day after day after day. I haven’t run into the problem you mentioned in your blog yet, but there are those moments when the right word just will NOT come to mind. You know it starts with a C but...

I'm glad you wrote about this and glad to see many others have similar problems. I've typed for over 50 years and often paid the rent because I typed fast and mostly accurate. My fingers still want to move fast but they aren't very accurate. Part of the problem is a small MacBook with a small keyboad, even so, the mistakes appear. I must reread everything.

My handwriting has deteriorated much worse and is often illegible even to me half an hour later. I think we can mostly blame the technology but certainly something is going on in the brain where the impulses to the fingers are relayed. And, yes, sometimes the self-correct function puts in weird words when one is misspelled. Self-awareness, as you mention, is necessary ... and that's probably a good thing. We can cut ourselves a certain amount of slack due to aging but I, for one, hope to be aware of the deterioration.

Excelleent thoughts... that was a lazy e, which of course didn't get corrected. Anyway, to test if I'm mentally alert enough to drive, I usually play a couple of games of solitaire (doesn't matter which kind) and then see if I am winning, but mainly if I completely miss putting correct cards where they should go. The missing plays mean to me that my mental capacity is foggy and I might miss seeing a car coming when I'm about to turn. That has happened. Typing does need to be proff-read, doesn't it!

I laugh at myself for a lot of the same above reasons, but not to worry. I see a lot of uncaught editing errors in the newspapers I read. Don't remember accuracy being as casual when I was younger.

It's nice to know I am not alone. I trained as a typist in my youth to become a secretary which required me to proof read all the time. Standards were very high at that time and today it seems that they are much lower.

Today I find myself doing the same thing you described in your post. And I had to lighten up on myself instead of getting overly concerned about mistakes that we all make. Even younger people make tons of typing mistakes. And as someone stated, I see lots of mistakes in a lot of what I read online written by professionals.

I am reading a book at this time and keep finding errors in sentences that really surprise me. I have no idea how an editor could release this book to print. I find it frustrating when I am reading because I have to double back and make the correction in my head so I can make sense out of the sentence.

Such is life living in the human condition.

Everything I would say has already been said, so. . .my mantra, once again: It is what it is.

I made my living as an executive secretary (aka: "administrative assistant") for years before returning to school at night for a master's degree in the early '80s. This enabled me to become an administrative professional in the nonprofit sector, which didn't pay a whole lot more but was definitely more satisfying work. I can still type pretty fast and fairly accurately, although I try to proofread much more carefully these days.

I experience all of those problems, especially simply leaving out some intended words. And synonym substitutions seem to have become more frequent. Like so many here, I'm a self-taught typist which may be part of this. Also, I've never been a great proofreader. But I try.

So pleased you mentioned Donald Hall. I just finished Essays After Eighty, and am looking forward to his new (last?) book making it to the top of my library hold list.

My journalism friends have been decrying the copy editor layoffs at the NY Times, and are having fun posting daily examples of things that are getting published. Just think, some professional writers haven’t learned to spell in the forst place, never mind aging...


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