Rieaodnmzd stgirns

According to an old piece of email forwarding-spam, it’s easy to read text even if you scramble all but the first and last letters in each word. But the truth is a bit more complicated.

The ancient meme reads:

Aoccdrnig to rseearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit plcae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

The form of this paragraph appears at first glance to provide direct evidence of its own “azanmig” claim. But something’s a little fishy: a lot of the words aren’t actually scrambled. Short words aren’t affected much if at all by the message’s middle-muddling, and most English words are short!

An actual researcher at the University of Cambridge wrote an informative response to the meme:

There are elements of truth in this, but also some things which scientists studying the psychology of language (psycholinguists) know to be incorrect.

I’m going to list some of the ways in which I think that the author(s) of this meme might have manipulated the jumbled text to make it relatively easy to read. This will also serve to list the factors that we think might be important in determining the ease or difficulty of reading jumbled text in general.

  1. Short words are easy.
  2. Function words (the, be, and, you etc.) stay the same – mostly because they are short words.
  3. Of the 15 words in this sentence, there are 8 that are still in the correct order. However, as a reader you might not notice this since many of the words that remain intact are function words, which readers don’t tend to notice when reading.
  4. Transpositions of adjacent letters are easier to read than more distant transpositions.
  5. None of the words that have reordered letters create another word.
  6. Transpositions were used that preseve the sound of the original word (e.g. toatl vs ttaol for total).
  7. The text is reasonably predictable.
Matt Davis

If you want to test your own permutation powers against realistic examples, I whipped up a bookmarklet that you can use to scramble the words on any website you want to challenge!