Now, I am not a scientist. I'm a writer, so I tend to look at every situation from a writer's point of view. Maybe I'm obsessed with typos lately because I've been hunting them (I'm working on editing Death, Book 3 in the Deck of Lies series, right now), but in moments of obsessive-compulsive behavior sometimes true insight is born. And lately, I've been thinking about typos and muscle memory -- and I've decided that typos just aren't my fault or yours, either. We can blame them on our fingers. More specifically, our finger muscles.
Scientists have studied the way muscles work, and if you're into science it's actually pretty remarkable. When you build your muscles through exercise, they create new nuclei, DNA-rich little particles, that don't diminish even after muscles atrophy.The nuclei forms a muscle memory that makes it easier for once-muscular people to re-build their bodies after muscles have atrophied.
Muscle memory isn't a myth, and you probably prove it every day without knowing. Did you ever learn how to swim? Once you knew it, did you ever have to learn it again? You know that phrase it's just like riding a bike? That's really a shout-out to the power of muscle memory. Some skills need only to be mastered once, and your body will not forget how to do them. Typing's like that, too.
Blame it on the Muscles
The QWERTY keyboard is used as an industry standard for computer manufacturers using the most popular operating systems, among which are Apple and Microsoft. If you live in the United States or another English-speaking country, the QWERTY layout is probably what you use. It's been in use since the 1870s, when a Milwaukee-area newspaper editor invented it. If you've taken typing lessons or taken a typing test, you probably did it using the QWERTY layout.
And if you're also a writer, you probably use the thing every single day of your life -- even when you're between books. Whether you're answering emails, conducting research or working on promotion, you're probably typing. And if you're a serious writer, you're probably typing the right way. Meaning, of course, that you rest your fingers along the home row (asdf jkl;) and stretch your digits as needed to type out the words you choose. Resting one's eight digits along the middle of the keyboard, and two thumbs near the space bar, is the standard method of using a QWERTY layout.
So it stands to reason that if you do something the exact same way for hours and hours every day, you're probably pretty darned good at it. And you're probably pretty used to it. And, even if you don't know it, you've likely been a victim of muscle memory, too.
I know I am. Some words in the English language are very common; we use them all the time. Barring the obvious, some of these most common words include that, have, with, this, from, say, would, their, number and know. They're common, and that means you're used to typing them. So when you're typing along, you may be thinking there, but end up typing their as a result of muscle memory.
At least, that's the excuse I've been using lately when I come across my own bizarre typos. It seems that I don't exactly misspell words, I just use the wrong ones. It's why I have to be so careful about reading every word, because spellcheck just isn't going to help. But is that really my fault...or is it just science?