The Psychology Behind Why So Many People Misspell Fort Worth
There’s a strange grammatical phenomenon surrounding the north-central Texas town. You see, people tend to accidentally type Forth Worth rather than Fort Worth more often than you’d expect. And it’s not just Googlers.
According to a recent feature in Texas Monthly, professional journalists in the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, the Associated Press. the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Fort Worth Weekly, and even Texas Monthly itself are all guilty of printing Forth Worth rather than Fort.
So what gives?
“I can tell you exactly what’s happening there,” Tom Stafford, a senior lecturer in psychology and cognitive science at the University of Sheffield, who studies the psychology of human errors, told Texas Monthly. “This is an example of a smart error, not a dumb error. A dumb error is when your finger slips or you hit the wrong key on the keyboard. It’s a simple mistake. The ‘Forth Worth’ error is not that. It’s an error you only make because you’ve learned a lot about how language works. What you’re doing, when you type—especially if you’re a good typist and you type a lot—is that you don’t have to think about where the keys are on the keyboard. You have expectations about which letters will follow other letters. If you type i and n, then g is very likely to be the next letter, because we have a lot of words that end in ‘-ing.’ That means that you don’t have to pay attention to every bit of what you’re doing.”
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The common “Forth Worth” error, he explained, is merely a brain lapse due to human habits. Typing “th” is simply more common than not. According to Stafford, Fort Worth is almost like a grammatical tongue-twister.
“There are certain sequences that are more confusing than others, aren’t there,” he said, noting that even he makes mistakes sometimes. “These kind of errors are common in typing, and once you start studying this stuff, you find that you make these errors all the time. I mean to write ‘definite’ and I write ‘definitely’ or I mean to write ‘data’ and I write ‘date.’ I’m constantly adding plurals or apostrophes to words. It’s a bit of a nightmare. Once you start thinking about this stuff, you see how often you do it.”
Long story short, don’t feel bad if you make this mistake or others like it. We are, after all, human. And, as the saying goes, to err is human, to forgive (your typo) is divine. Read the entire interview on Texas Monthly here.