reading jumbled letters

At lunch today someone brought up a meme that I had heard of before, but I began to wonder about its validity. The general idea is that people can read words with jumbled letters as long as the first and last letter are in the correct order. The following paragraph is used as an example.

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

It seems cool at first and I still believe it shows the power of our minds, but it’s not entirely on the up-and-up. I found a response to the e-mail from a linguist who works at Cambridge University who points out that no such study took place in Cambridge. This is what he had to say about it.

“I work at Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, in Cambridge, UK, a Medical Research Council unit that includes a large group investigating how the brain processes language. If there’s a new piece of research on reading that’s been conducted in Cambridge, I thought I should have heard of it before…

I’ve written this page, to try to explain the science behind this 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 break down the meme, one line at a time to illustrate these points, pointing out what I think is the relevant research on the role of letter order on reading. Again, this is only my view of the current state of reading research, as it relates to this meme. If you think I’ve missed something important, let me know.”

I also found a forum discussing the meme using different text. A user by the name of bobkalsey wrote a rather lengthy response, dubbing it ‘Webbage’ (Web Garbage).

In the end, I think it’s safe to say that not all sentences would be so easy to read, so it’s generous to say our minds only need the first and last letter, but in many cases it is surprising what our mind can make out of a jumble of letters.

bobkalsey’s response sums up my feelings on the subject.

He wrote, “I know it wasn’t mean to be serious…and I don’t mean to sound like a fuddy-duddy. It is an amusing post. But…I guess I [am] a fuddy-duddy — how else [would you] explain my frequent skepticism and…obsession to get the facts right[?]”


 (Post a comment) | Comments RSS feed
  1. I think it’s not the first or the last letter, vowels must be in order to read it well.

    Comment by Juan on January 28, 2005 @ 5:10 am
  2. To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed now that I know. It’s similar to how you feel when someone shows you how a magic trick is performed. I’m not saying that I like being conned or duped, but not knowing the truth makes life more interesting.

    Comment by jason on January 28, 2005 @ 9:38 am
  3. Actually, this feature of the brain’s language processing centers is already known by people fluent in ASL. Unlike beginning signers, those who are fluent spell extremely rapidly. This often results in the letters getting misformed and even jumbled, and yet the also-fluent reader can generally figure out the correct word quickly. I don’t know the science behind it, but it cerainly seems to work on the same principles as this meme.

    Comment by Meredith on January 28, 2005 @ 2:05 pm
  4. Oh, and am I the only one who has noticed the missing letter in this?

    Comment by Meredith on January 28, 2005 @ 2:08 pm
  5. Meredith: What ‘this’ are you referring to? The jumbled on that is the first word in the last sentence of the paragraph is ‘Tihs’, but there aren’t any letters missing.

    Comment by dan on January 28, 2005 @ 2:41 pm
  6. Very unscientifically, I have heard that reading becomes more recognizing whole words at once, rather than individual letters, which makes sense, because we don’t look at each letter and sound out each word every time, but gain some proficiency in recognizing the complete unit. But anecdotally, for me personally, that jumbled paragraph didn’t prove to me anything revolutionary, but was more like a little exercise or puzzle, to figure out the words, which I guess most people can do fairly well. And if any spots were the most important, I would guess/agree that if we were assured that the first and last letters are correctly placed, that helps a lot. To test the hypothesis, maybe we could put all the other letters in their correct places, and switch the first and last, and see if we all get confused and can’t read the words at all … (I was gonna do that here, but started, and the effort seems more trouble than what I think our reaction would be, that the mind can adapt pretty well once we understand the rules, so we’d be able to figure it out and understand the words.)

    Comment by DavidH on January 28, 2005 @ 11:13 pm
  7. It almost seems like a lesson in cryptology with all the code breaking and spy stuff. It is a very intensely satisfying field indeed.

    Comment by fareed on January 29, 2005 @ 5:31 pm
  8. Dan: Nearly every version of this I have seen contains the phrase a rscheearch – the ones without it have simply dropped the “a” to make it “correct.” This page caught the error.

    Comment by Meredith on January 31, 2005 @ 7:13 am
  9. I have been trying for two weeks to make a word from these letters:

    S C H A A L P

    Can you please help so I can get on with my game?

    Comment by jack saliamonas on February 10, 2005 @ 8:05 am
  10. Jack: The Internet Anagram Server came up with only one word: paschal, an archaic word for Easter.

    Comment by dan on February 10, 2005 @ 9:33 am
  11. Our names are Dakota (female) and Whitey (male).
    We are 13 and we are g oing to do a project on this because it seems so interesting. we are g o ing to do a survey on our school to see how many people can read the paragraph that we jumble up! we will tell you if we place in the science fair becaus that is what we are in and we are gonna kick some butt!!

    Comment by Dakota and Whitey on January 12, 2006 @ 5:41 pm
  12. I’d be interested in your results as I am doing a similar project.

    Comment by Teresa on February 7, 2006 @ 7:37 pm
  13. my friends and me are also doing a project similar to the above but we are time the lenght it takes to read it and seeing if spelling ability or the lack of is linked, please reply if you have done a sucessful science fair project using this theme.

    Comment by Rachel on June 6, 2006 @ 1:15 pm
  14. I think it’s very smart and clever what you did and that I would of never thought of that. And some people think spelling is important. Now I don’t so I can write any thing and people would still know what I am writing

    Comment by courtenay on June 27, 2006 @ 9:22 pm
  15. Yes, people will be able to read your writing even with bad spelling. Whether they think it’s worth the effort and what they think of your mental ability is another matter. I know if I had to choose between hiring 2 people and couldn’t find any useful difference in their applications, but 1 spelled horribly, well, take a guess…

    Comment by Jerry on August 15, 2006 @ 1:25 pm
  16. I’ve just completed a literature review as part of my psychology degree about this letter transposition stuff. I don’t know how much anyone knows about it, but I thought a little summary maybe useful. The main literature demonstrates:
    There is a significant delay to reading rate when any type of transposition is made.
    The first and last letters of words are more important than the internal, i.e. it is easier to read a word when the internal letters have been moved around, than when external letters have been transposed.
    Nonadjacent transposition can be made and it is still possible to read the word.
    Tranposing vowels is more damaging to reading than consanants.
    The implication is therefore that when we read a word, the brain recognises the letters first, but then organises them into their spaces later. Hopefully, for anyone doing a project that may help a little.

    Comment by Tracey on January 16, 2007 @ 10:11 am
  17. Tcreay: I’m still skeptical about the reality of this supposed discovery, but tnkahs for piivdonrg yuor smarmuy.

    Comment by dan on January 16, 2007 @ 12:44 pm
  18. A friend of ours has told us to keep 2/22/07 open as we are going somewhere. They said that they would drive. They also gave us a jumble of words(NCKNANKAOAN); our clue–it is a city somewhere in the world but has something to do with what we will be doing on the 22nd within an hour of Huddleston, VA. The first letter is a K. Is there somewhere I can go to help fgurie out this jumble?

    Comment by dave stone on January 30, 2007 @ 7:50 am
  19. The anagram server is a good resource, but in this case the only solution it came up with was Knack an anon, which seems pretty useless.

    Comment by dan on January 30, 2007 @ 9:40 am
  20. I am trying to help my son make 5 words out of these jumbled letters one-7 letter word, one -8 letter word, one-9 letter word and one- 10 letter word. then one extra word. letter are noinectnst. any suggestions would be appreciated.

    Comment by Janet on September 10, 2007 @ 3:19 pm
  21. See comment #19.

    10-letters: Continents
    9-letters: Continent
    8-letters: Contents
    7-letters: Intents

    Comment by dan on September 10, 2007 @ 3:22 pm
  22. “the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht……”
    IMPORTANT is spelled with an E instead of an A.
    Hmm… wonder who wrote that?

    Comment by Sarah on June 4, 2008 @ 9:58 am
  23. Sarah has a point.
    It should be importAnt (not imprortEnt)
    There’s a surplus letter h in research (rscheearch)

    Also the grammar is terrible:
    According to A research -> according to research
    …be at the right place -> are in the right place

    So it really does show the power of the human mind, or that I’m a bit pedantic.

    Comment by Billy on November 7, 2008 @ 6:39 am
  24. @Billy: Thanks for the corrections (and to Sarah too). I hadn’t noticed them.

    Comment by Dan on November 7, 2008 @ 7:15 am
  25. is there a book written like that? there should be it’s actually a really fun way to read! are ther other things written like that?

    Comment by Sarah on November 19, 2008 @ 3:56 pm
  26. @Sarah I doubt it. No editor in their right mind would want to proofread it. Imagine spell checking it!

    Comment by Dan on November 19, 2008 @ 4:06 pm
  27. Wow. I think I’ve found my science project.

    Comment by Charlice on December 7, 2008 @ 8:47 am
  28. My students reads jumbled words with telrste in any position but cannot read very well and cannot spell. I can give him a 20 word list and he unjumbles it and does it in under 10mins with spelling usually correct. Does anyone know or heard of this reofbe?

    Comment by Dawn on August 5, 2009 @ 4:26 pm
  29. I have been trying for two weeks to make a word from these letters:


    Can you please help so I can get on with my game?

    Comment by sagar on September 8, 2009 @ 9:24 am
  30. I’m sorry, but I’m dislexic and I read the paragraph the first time without any hint that it was jumbled. I did not have to mentally solve it as a puzzle. I did not know if the study had been done at Cambridge or not but I took the context of the meme and applied it to emails that I starting sending to people and no one replied or seemed to understand what I was saying. And some large words, when you jumble the letters – they do become a puzzle. Take “cheersonmipn” for example. Now if you can look at that the first time and without thinking about it and come up with comprehension – then I would have to say you are brilliant.

    Comment by bobby on September 8, 2009 @ 1:03 pm
  31. @bobby I’d have to agree. Long words are really hard to unscramble, even if you keep the first and last letter in the same place.

    Comment by Dan on September 8, 2009 @ 4:04 pm
  32. @sagar The Internet Anagram Server has 14,369 results.

    Comment by Dan on September 8, 2009 @ 4:03 pm
  33. @bobby, its even harder when you leave out an ‘o’ from cheersonmipn. “comprehension”

    Comment by Matt on September 28, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

    Comment by Lucas on November 2, 2009 @ 5:48 pm
  35. Re: post #28

    your student could possibly be somewhere on the autism spectrum. i have asperger’s syndrome and i am phenomenal when it comes anagrams and word puzzles (though i also read and spell very well) a fewe diagnostics might benefit both your student and his future teachers.

    Comment by James on November 16, 2009 @ 4:46 pm
  36. Meredith, I also saw that there was a letter/word missing from the statement. There should be an A in there, between without and problem. It should say, without a problem. Also the word important is spelled correctly, I don’t know who saw it as being spelled importent, but they are wrong.

    Comment by Ellen on November 29, 2009 @ 10:51 am
  37. hey, anybody wwho has an idea about these jumbled letters? morosnl, mensur & mnloleceo – all of these are cities in italy (rome). help me naman, plz… asign ko kasi e.. tnx..

    Comment by baby on January 11, 2010 @ 9:17 am
  38. I am no scholar, but the proof is in the pudding. If you look at a paragraph in which all but the first and last letters are scrambled, and can read it. Well, then you can read it. If not, you cannot. Look, some people can read full sentences at a time with no real differentiation between words. These people simply put the full structure of the sentence together in their mind and understand it. Others need to read each word for comprehension, but not each individual letter. Someone who is just learning to read or has a learning disability needs to sound each letter out in order to understand the word. The long and the short of it is that no two people comprehend things in the same way. My Four year old son is a good reader for his age, but he would not be able to understand the meme. I on the other hand am not the brightest person in the world, but am an extremely fast reader. When I first read it, I did not even realize that the words were scrambled. It is relative people…No big mystery. :)

    Comment by Macgregor46 on January 22, 2010 @ 4:03 pm
  39. i am doing my science project on this. i am in year nine and hopefully i will get %100. this page is full of useful information. thank you heaps guys !!!! :) xx

    Comment by abbey on October 6, 2010 @ 3:41 am
  40. to number 20:

    not incest

    Comment by ben on October 26, 2010 @ 6:55 pm
  41. Urban legend. There was NEVER a study at Cambridge. This piece of text comes from one person’s reseach into child development.

    Comment by andrew on November 2, 2010 @ 4:01 am
  42. @andrew Did you read the original post? Half of it was devoted to explaining how there was no study at Cambridge, even quoting a Cambridge linguist.

    Comment by Dan on November 2, 2010 @ 8:57 am
  43. Comments 22 and 23 (Sarah & Billy) point out that it is harder to write jumbled than it is to read.

    Comment by Gerrit-Jan on December 12, 2010 @ 3:01 am
  44. lover loves it,friends need it,relationship starts with it,life & ends with it, it is —d–a–s.

    Comment by chitta on January 11, 2011 @ 10:20 am
  45. The first time I read it I also didn’t realize that the letters were jumbled… but then again, I am a terrible speller, and when typing I ofter miss entire words. I think that it all goes back to the way our brain interprets “chunks” of information. For more complex information the chunks may be smaller and smaller pieces, ie entire words, or groups of word for more prooficient readers, and single letters for less proficient readers.

    Comment by joe4ney on January 21, 2011 @ 1:57 pm
  46. i’m olny 13yrs. old but I can raed taht jmulebd ltrets.. it’s to esay for me to raed taht eevn fsrit tmie I saw it…

    Comment by arbin reyes on February 19, 2011 @ 2:21 am
  47. First and last letters are very important and what we usually focus on when learning to read. Those in the middle help us discriminate one word from something similar. But it really comes down to syntax and semantics; or structure and meaning. A child would probably have a very difficult time reading the above paragraph or something similar with medial letters rearranged. However, since we fluent readers, we are able to anticipate the next word and use the meaning we’ve derived from the ‘story’ to guide us in reading. Much like finishing someone’s sentence for them, you’re not reading their mind or necessarily thinking alike. Instead you’re using what you already know about language structures to predict what comes next.

    Comment by Ashley on April 18, 2011 @ 7:08 pm
  48. @Ashley That’s true, experienced readers can limit the set of possible words based on the context. We’d have a much harder time if the words of the sentence were out of order. Plus some of the words in the sentence aren’t very well scrambled (rsceearch versus something like rrcesaeh)

    The scrambler lets you create similar sentences, scrambling the inside while leaving the first and last letter in the correct position.

    And for those who still believe they can read any word as long as the first and last letters are in the right place, have a go with this sentence: Gieanlutsctig iaeetirbnd hrhiotadmpeers pvtreeend btcfiuraed mtsioiacatn mtrucaninuafg aaiiiteidlessbihansnstarntmm.

    Comment by Dan on May 6, 2011 @ 3:06 pm
  49. Science is pretty cool. For example, with these scrambled up paragraph, everyone who knows English and can read to some extent seems to be able to read it just fine – regardless of what people at Cambridge have to do, or not do, with it. That is worth something.

    Second, and this fits with your post on bad mouthing the “science” of it, is that “meme’s” are NOT scientific at all – they have been completely and utterly debunked. Meme’s where a thing from the propagandist Richard Dawkins (from Cambridge) and it long ago was shown to be worthless by and extreme error of internal logic with its own construction, a problem which is easy for anyone to see – about as easy as it is to see that everyone can read the scrambled up paragraph.

    Anyway, thought I should point out that you don’t want to go saying a thing is unscientific and then pull out a third rate quasi-theology that was presented as though its “science” when it fact, long ago it was tossed under the bus as not even reaching the lowest bare minimum of meeting up to being “scientific”.

    Comment by Troy Large on May 14, 2011 @ 8:03 am
  50. plz guess my word


    Comment by Ashish on June 22, 2011 @ 9:06 pm
  51. @Ashish It’s effect, but you didn’t follow the rule of keeping the first and last letter in the correct place.

    Comment by Dan on June 22, 2011 @ 9:54 pm
  52. lol, tihs is jsut eipc. i lelold so dman hrad at tihs! ncie.

    Comment by Boob on July 14, 2011 @ 7:10 am
  53. why don we just speak normally

    Comment by Marmalade on July 14, 2011 @ 7:20 am
  54. Macgregor46: Someone just learning to read does NOT need to sound out each letter. The exclusive use of phonics is an archaic method of learning to read and its exclusive use is frowned upon by most modern educators. Phonics is useful to some extent, but the “rules” don’t always hold up. Sometimes the same pair of vowels take on two different pronunciations. Some letters in isolation or combination are silent. Some vowels in pairs have sounds entirely unrelated to their individual sounds (diphthongs).

    Comment by John Bowles on July 30, 2011 @ 4:36 am
  55. @48 I think the problem with some of the larger words are that they are not as common. I picked out a few of your words right away in that sentence. The other ones are words I have rarely seen.

    Comment by Stephen Stansell on September 7, 2011 @ 11:03 pm
  56. Edit: Also a couple I can’t even figure out what they are supposed to be. Please translate. ;0

    Comment by Stephen Stansell on September 7, 2011 @ 11:04 pm
  57. EFFECT.

    Comment by Derek on September 14, 2011 @ 1:39 pm
  58. honestly your just guessing every letters from the mixed up word you read from a sentence. If you mix up the mixed words in different order it be hard to read the actual word cause you have nothing to follow up with.

    hope you get what I mean.

    Comment by peek on September 26, 2011 @ 8:06 pm
  59. a 7 letter word


    1.boys use it
    2.girls like it
    3.parents hate it

    help me to find the word

    Comment by raja on September 29, 2011 @ 4:52 am
  60. @raja This doesn’t relate to the original subject matter, but as a fan of riddles I couldn’t resist trying to figure it out. My conclusion is that no word in the English language satisfies this. Wordfind agrees.

    Comment by Dan on September 29, 2011 @ 9:17 am
  61. i read it easily. i have learnign difficulties but i had no proble what so ever. but like others have said it can all come down to ability of reading. those that fing it hard to read may find it hard to understand. as for longer words then it becomes difficult or for words iv never seen before. a few words people had done above and the cities and things i couldnt read but thets down to length of word or iv never seen that word before. 99% of the time though i am able to figure the words out if the first and last are in the right place. when the word is scrambled completely it takes me a lot longer to figure the word out and when its a relay long word i find it impossible.

    Comment by EMILY on October 2, 2011 @ 7:42 pm
  62. make a word out of this jambled letters s e t c o t

    Comment by sophia mendoza on October 28, 2011 @ 12:59 am
  63. Meredith: I didn’t notice the missing ‘t’ in certainly right away until you were pointing out This.

    Comment by Carole on October 31, 2011 @ 6:19 pm
  64. make a word out of dis jumbled letters
    1. ELWAKS
    2. TCOUSPO

    Comment by suruchi on December 9, 2011 @ 3:29 am
  65. Im About To Do A Report On This And too ^^ I Dont Think There Is Any Word

    Comment by Mante on February 1, 2012 @ 11:10 am
  66. scalaph

    Comment by quack on February 15, 2012 @ 8:50 am
  67. @quack You need to keep the first and last letter in their correct position, so Paschal could be something like Pcaashl

    Comment by Dan on February 15, 2012 @ 9:14 am
  68. facebook me.

    Comment by Gary O'flynn on March 7, 2012 @ 5:27 am
  69. My seven year old just read the whole thing fine. The only word she struggled with was Cambridge which she got 95% right. Not to bad since she has never heard of Cambridge before.

    Comment by Dd on May 3, 2012 @ 7:08 pm
  70. In a way this is a cheap magician’s trick, because the only reason people can read the scrambled words is because they aren’t very scrambled. Fixing the first and last letters means 2 and 3 letter words don’t change at all, and 4 letter words just swap the middle letters. That’s the bulk of our vocabulary. Try making a sentence with very long words, and our ability to read words “as a whole” mysteriously vanishes. To wit:

    Bblaaesl pryleas pnmrrioefg sllaimriy aeoulltsby dvrseee clbrpmaaoe tteenmrat.

    is incomprehensible, because now every word is truly scrambled, with the first and last letters being an insignificant proportion of the total. So sorry all of you that thought you had academic backing to your poor spelling and grammar skills. They do matter, because baseball players performing similarly absolutely deserve comparable treatment.

    Comment by Chica on May 7, 2012 @ 6:21 am
  71. @Chica Exactly right. This is the point I was trying to make above. It happens to work out in the example sentence, but it is by no means rule that people can read any sentence as long as the first and last letters are in the correct order.

    Comment by Dan on May 7, 2012 @ 9:28 am
  72. i want to find 40 jumble words

    Comment by rohit on June 7, 2012 @ 5:29 am
  73. I think it is because our brain can predict what word it is simply just by looking at some key letters. As long as the key letters are there we can simply identify the word.

    Comment by danjoel on June 15, 2012 @ 9:38 am
  74. These letters make up two words. ist word has 5 letters, the 2nd word
    has 7 letters. The question is “The designs for the new eyeglasses were chosen after this.


    Comment by Christopher on June 25, 2012 @ 10:19 am
  75. The design for the new glasses was chosen after focus testing.

    The reason the jumbled reading meme is easy to read also has to do with context. You will agree that the reader starts slower and gathers speed through the passage. This speed relates to the emergence of context. The brain has libraries of context. It fast tracks to the in-context libraries and away from out-of-context. When we are in a room with 4 year old girls assembling a jigsaw puzzle of Snow White. Our fast track is to the kinds of words which fit.
    This is where an accomplished game hunter unconsciously finds himself saying bunny instead of rabbit.

    Comment by Mosheen on July 8, 2012 @ 7:02 am
  76. i have trouble reading myself, and even with grammer i struggle but when i read anything where the words are jumbled up i can read with ease even backwards is easier than reading the standard way

    Comment by fran on August 4, 2012 @ 4:05 am
  77. off on a tangent but thought you might enjoy!!
    Ladle Rat Rotten Hut
    Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift
    wetter murder inner ladle cordage, honor itch off
    lodge, dock florist. Disk ladle gull orphan worry putty
    ladle rat cluck wetter ladle rat hut, and fur disk raisin,
    pimple colder Ladle Rat Rotten Hut.

    -follow link to read the whole story.

    Comment by terry on September 17, 2012 @ 7:33 am

    Comment by Ramesh on December 11, 2012 @ 7:16 am
  79. what if you cant read it

    Comment by bob on March 8, 2013 @ 4:14 am
  80. @bob Then it’s not nearly as impressive.

    Comment by Dan on March 8, 2013 @ 10:54 am
  81. I was wondering if you might be able to decipher this which was sent to me by an unknown? kmise ybheedicveqohxzmivtldfbaifislqrwf
    It was sent with the space after the first 5 letters. Also the subject was labeled: Bk efv Thank you.

    Comment by William on April 4, 2013 @ 1:50 am
  82. I have read so many articles or reviews about the blogger lovers except this article is actually a fastidious paragraph, keep it up.

    Comment by steam keygen on July 15, 2013 @ 3:19 pm
  83. i want to know the jumbled word of “oolnpys”

    Comment by dikashma shree on December 4, 2013 @ 8:40 am
  84. @dikashma There isn’t a single word, but here’s a list of phrases from the anagram server:

    Loon Spy
    Pylon So
    Only Sop
    Only Ops
    Pol Nosy
    Lop Nosy
    Slop Yon
    Pols Yon
    Lops Yon
    Ploys On
    Ploys No
    Ploy Nos
    Ploy Son
    Sol Pony
    Ply Soon
    Lo On Spy
    Lo No Spy
    Ply On So
    Ply No So
    Sly On Op
    Sly No Op

    Comment by Dan on December 4, 2013 @ 2:07 pm
  85. This did not help me. My problem is aunction malf in word that transposes letters to different locations as I type. I purposely have not corrected the one in line 1 or in this line soelem I hav that you can see the type of prob

    Thank you. I look forward to a response.

    Comment by Kevin Smith on March 7, 2014 @ 9:52 pm
  86. H M H P E G C A L N E N O V
    Rearrange the above words, its the name of an international city

    Comment by Shanky on November 15, 2014 @ 2:05 am
  87. Hmm, I don’t see any cities in this list.

    Comment by Dan on November 15, 2014 @ 9:07 am

Comments are closed