Ask AZ: fat-fingered typos

In response to my posting yesterday on “Thing sliced ham” — “thing sliced [in English muffin topped with thing sliced ham] looks like a nice example of a pure typo, an error in hitting the right keys on a keyboard” — Mike Pope asks on Facebook today:

MP > AZ: To what extent does your understanding / explanation of typos overlap with the verb to fat-finger as used in tech (and possibly elsewhere)?

And my reply begins:

AZ > MP: As a largely tech-ignorant person, I wasn’t familiar with the usage, but, yes, another species of typo.

and continues:

Hitting an adjacent key instead of the target key is still another; hitting a different key typed with the same finger is still another; reversing the order of two keystrokes is yet another; anticipating keystrokes to come and perseverating a keystroke already typed are still others … There are many types of action errors (and not just with typing).

But the usage, the usage, professor … From NOAD:

noun fat finger: informal, humorous used to refer to clumsy or inaccurate typing, typically resulting from one finger striking two keys at the same time: the programming problem turned out to be a case of fat finger | [as modifier]: his texts are full of fat-finger mistakesverb (fat-finger): [with object] type (something) inaccurately by striking two keys at the same time with one finger: you may have fat-fingered your password.

I have no idea of the history here — the expressions seem not to go back before this century, and they haven’t yet appeared in the OED — but Wikipedia supplies a use of the term that’s both generalized (no longer requiring striking two keys at once) and specialized (to keyboard input in the financial markets):

A fat-finger error is a keyboard input error or mouse misclick in the financial markets such as the stock market or foreign exchange market whereby an order to buy or sell is placed of far greater size than intended, for the wrong stock or contract, at the wrong price, or with any number of other input errors.

… Fat-finger errors are a product of the electronic processing of orders which requires details to be input using keyboards.

My typos. I have thin rather than fat fingers, but they don’t work at all well, so I make an enormous number of typos, of all the kinds enumerated above. They used to work just fine — I was a serious pianist, in fact — though I made typos like any ordinary person. But now I’m disabled, in several ways at once, and have become a gigantic typo-generating device. Even worse, each of those ways hurts, each in its own way.

Relevant photos:

(#1) Ulnar nerve damage (right side) after extensive surgery for necrotizing fasciitis: non-functional bent-over little finger, barely functional fourth finger, complete erosion of the muscle in the area between the thumb and index finger — plus a  middle finger painfully swollen from osteoarthritis

The ulnar nerve damage manifests itself also in chronic pain, with occasional lightning-like strikes of hot pain running down my arm to the fingertips; that I just live with. The fierce aching of osteoarthritis, on the other hand, comes and goes erratically, but when it’s bad I can’t hold things or control the small muscles in that hand at all. (And I get that in my left hand as well — and in my wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, and foot joints too.)

(#2) A useless trigger finger on my left hand (I get them on two fingers on that side): a stuck bent finger that can be painfully snapped back to straightness

The trigger fingers were treated a while back by injecting prednisone directly into the joints — which took a while to kick in, but then wiped the problem away. For the moment, anyway.

Meanwhile, I am, as I said, a typo-generating device, big time.

2 Responses to “Ask AZ: fat-fingered typos”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Well, yes, hardly anything is as recent as you at first think it is. On Facebook, Ben Zimmer points us to his Word Routes column “Beware of Quants with Fat Fingers” on 5/14/10:

    Fat-finger compound phrases, alluding to errors on a keyboard or keypad, go back at least twenty years. Such compounds can refer to intentionally mispunched keys, as in this line from a March 31, 1990 article in The Dallas Morning News: “Your college’s phone bill has skyrocketed, because of student hackers using the ‘fat-finger’ method of pounding out a combination of phone codes to place unauthorized long-distance calls.” And on his Wordspy website, Paul McFedries defines fat-finger dialing as “a telephone scam in which a company sets up a toll number that is one digit different than a popular number, so that the company earns money when customers accidentally mis-dial the legitimate number.”

    Previous market mishaps have been blamed on fat-finger errors, including a notorious trade on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2005. The incident brought to light so-called fat-finger syndrome, defined by The Guardian as “the occasional tendency of stressed traders working in fast-moving electronic financial markets to press the wrong button on their keyboard and, in the process, lose their employer a mint.”

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    Careful readers of this blog might note that the temporary remission of my afflictions (noted in earlier postings) has been melting away, beginning with the return of chronic pain from all sources, not just the ulnar nerve damage; those were lovely moments, but they’re gone.

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