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  LOGOLOG
a weblog of wordplay by Eric Harshbarger

QWERTY vs. Dvorak

There are two main configurations for most American keyboards. By far the most common is the QWERTY layout (where "Q-W-E-R-T-Y" are the first six letters along the top letter row of keys). "QWERTY" is even accepted as a valid play in Scrabble.

The feisty upstart of keyboard layouts is the "Dvorak" configuration (named after one of the designers). There is a voluminous website about the Dvorak Keyboard. Proponents of this configuration stress that it is supposed to make typing much easier and require far less effort. Still, old habits die hard, and QWERTY is still taught to most students to this day.

I never formally learned to type on either keyboard, so I'm not going to take sides.

A question did spring to my mind, however, as I thought about these two different configurations of keys. What would happen if a person, expecting to type at a QWERTY keyboard, unknowingly started typing on a Dvorak Keyboard?

Gobbledygook, right?

Pretty much... but not complete gobbledygook.

You see, some words will actually get translated to other words. If one studies how the two keyboards matchup (PDF file), one can see exactly what letters or symbols get translated to which other symbols or letters if a typist made such a mistake.

Two letters actually retain their positions between the two keyboard layouts: "A" and "M". So typing the word MAMA when you think you're on a QWERTY-board but you're really on a Dvorak-board will still produce the word MAMA.

These are rare cases, however, and one should feel fortunate enough if any valid word is produced.

Keyboards are usually connected to computers these days, and computers can make quick work of figuring out exactly which words translate to other words in this circumstance.

Using the latest list of acceptable Scrabble words (based on the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, 4th edition) I wrote a simple program that translates all of the words, and see which translations are themselves words. Here is that list.

It's not terribly long. Most of the time you will get gobbledygook. In fact, once you get past three leter words, things really fall off. Only 33 four letter words remain valid after the translation (and being "Scrabble words", many of you are probably still thinking that a lot of these answers are not even words themselves).

Only half a dozen five letter words survive the QWERTY-to-Dvorak mix-up.

And the word FLOSSY, at six letters long, is the longest word to adjust well to the circumstances... it becomes the word UNROOF.

I went ahead and did a check using the web2.txt wordlist (which is based on the 2nd edition of Merriam-Webster's New International Dictionary). It did not beat the six letter limit, but it did add a couple more:

MAHMAL -> MADMAN
RAMROD -> PAMPRE

(it also came up with MAOMAO -> MARMAR, but I could not find MARMAR in my actual volume of MW2, so we'll ignore it).

Still, nothing above six letters was achieved.

So, despite a small number of words translating to valid words, don't expect a keyboard oversight as described above to produce much that is readable.

-- Eric

P.S.: The translated words above can be viewed with the pairs reversed if you are curious about the inverse mix-up (a Dvorak user accidently sitting down at a QWERTY keyboard). In that case the words simply translate backward (UNROOF becomes FLOSSY, but FLOSSY becomes gibberish: YPS;;T).

[5 January 2006]
   
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Comments about this article:
You describe "s" as invariant (the same on both keyboards), but it changes to "o". The word "As" would change to "Ao"; "Ass" to "Aoo".

Posted by: Chad


Oops, Chad, you are correct. Don't know what I was thinking.

I have edited the article appropriately.

Thanks.

Posted by: Eric Harshbarger


 
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