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Intelligent Errors Are Totally Book

Pardon this brief interruption of contest fever (see three previous entries) but …

Here’s a nice observation written by Nicole Tourtelot, who toils away here in the Freakonomics office (maintaining this Web site, fulfilling bookplate requests, etc.):

Dubner posted recently about intentionally misspelled domain names, such as, that aim to grab clumsy typists and/or poor spellers. The idea that intentionally misspelling the name of one’s own company could lead to increased market share reminded me of the QWERTY keyboard story-another case of intelligent error, although in this story, the goal was inefficiency. Mitchell M. Waldrop, a former senior writer at Science magazine, tells it nicely in his book, Complexity:

“An engineer named Christopher Scholes designed the QWERTY layout in 1873 specifically to slow typists down; the typewriting machines of the day tended to jam if the typist went too fast. But then the Remington Sewing Machine Company mass-produced a typewriter using the QWERTY keyboard, which meant that lots of typists began to learn the system, which meant that other typewriter companies began to offer the QWERTY keyboard, which meant that still more typists began to learn it, et cetera, et cetera.”

In that same vein, someone sent me this post about T9 predictive-text messaging. Because people spend so much time texting – particularly young people – and predictive text is so commonplace, T9 text errors have spawned some delightfully random developments in slang. Here’s an explanation of T9 technology for the Luddites, but in brief, the phone guesses what you’re trying to type.

According to the post, “book” is the new way to say “cool.” With some T9 dictionaries, both words come up as suggestions for 2-6-6-5, with “book” popping up first. After a few careless messages along the lines of “that movie was totally book,” new street lingo was born.

I asked my younger sister if she’d heard of this predictive-text slang phenomenon and she immediately supplied her own example. Among her hipper-than-thou (hipper-than-me) art-school crowd in San Francisco, “jazz” is apparently the new “lame,” for a few reasons: The first is that some predictive-text programs guess “jazz” when you try to type in “lame” (they’re both spelled starting 5-2). Secondly, it’s a classic evolution in the hipsters’ flip-the-script lexicon: using a word to connote its exact opposite. Granted, that last point is debatable — depending on your opinion of jazz.