Will’s words

Prospect Magazine

Will’s words

/ / Leave a comment

Anyone who has ever used a mobile phone with predictive text messaging will know the feeling. You type what you think will be one word—for example “save”—and it comes out as another (in this case “rate”). Other common examples include “if” (producing “he”) and “bus” (“cup”). That second one is especially annoying: “bus” is a far more common text word than “cup,” so why does keying in the sequence 287 produce the latter? These words have a name: they are “textonyms.” There are a few particularly appropriate ones: “Smirnoff” produces “poisoned,” while “kiss” gets “lips.” I once texted a friend to compliment her on a meal, and my text read: “Thank you for the lovely snuffle” (work it out). Similar to textonyms are the alternatives produced by computer spell-checks. In the early days, these tended to be crude—one version of Microsoft Word changed “Freud” to “fraud.” In a way, this was appropriate, since it could be argued that both “textonyms” and spell-check corrections are technological equivalents of “parapraxis” (or, as the concept is more often known, the Freudian slip). The difference, of course, is that textonyms have no inherent significance, whereas Freudian slips always do. My own favourite case of parapraxis supposedly occurred a few years ago when the Queen visited Eton. The then headmaster was called John Lewis. At the end of her visit, Her Majesty began her speech: “I want to thank the headmaster of Eton College, Peter Jones…”

Leave a comment


William Skidelsky

William Skidelsky
William Skidelsky is the author of "Gourmet London" (Authentik) and a former deputy editor of Prospect 

Share this

Most Read

Prospect Buzz

  • Prospect's masterful crossword setter Didymus gets a shout-out in the Guardian
  • The Telegraph reports on Nigel Farage's article on Lords reform
  • Prospect writer Mark Kitto is profiled in the New York Times

Prospect Reads

  • Do China’s youth care about politics? asks Alec Ash
  • Joanna Biggs on Facebook and feminism
  • Boris Berezosky was a brilliant man, says Keith Gessen—but he nearly destroyed Russia