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noun [countable]

a typographical error made when using thumbs to type a text message

'How do you get rid of thumbos, those cellphone message typos? Practice. And some handy tips.'

One News Page 17th March 2010

A mobile phone, a BlackBerry®, an iPod Touch … fundamental to their effective use is that cute little micro-keyboard, which many of us spend a not-insignificant amount of time tapping away at each day. Unlike a full-sized computer keyboard, which affords luxurious use of all fingers from both hands, these minute little keypads exploit one digit only: the thumb. And those of us who have been blessed with thumbs that are on the chubby side, or are perhaps not as dextrous as we might like, will be familiar with the concept underlying the word thumbo. To illustrate: 'I'll pee you there.' … tap, tap – aargh, blow! Tap back lots of characters, delete p, find s, tap forward again.

those of us blessed with thumbs on the chubby side, or perhaps not as dextrous as we might like, will be familiar with the concept of the thumbo

Thumbo is a word coined to informally refer to a mistake made while typing a text message, something that most users of handheld devices, even the most proficient of 'texters', are likely to be familiar with on a daily basis. Those of us who like to take the strain off our thumbs by using the facility of predictive texting – a mechanism which predicts likely words and thereby allows us to write them with a single key press for each letter – are still not totally immune to the thumbo. Predicted words are not always what we were intending, and it's easy to hastily send off a message, only to subsequently realize that the system's first choice was not the same as ours. I can't count the number of times I've said in rather than go, and on one particularly unfortunate occasion, neck rather than meal (… 'thanks for the lovely neck.' Oh dear, need I say more?!). In this sense, then, there's an overlap between the thumbo and the now established concept of the textonym, words produced by the same combination of key presses.

So what's the best way to avoid the thumbo? A recent article in the New York Times provides some tips, including learning to locate the space, backspace and enter keys without having to look at them, getting to grips with the time-saving shortcuts on various devices, and, above all, just like learning dance steps or playing the guitar – practice!

Background – thumbo

Thumbo has been around for the last year or so, popping up in the popular web-based Urban Dictionary in October 2009. Early indications suggest that the plural will be formed as thumbos (compare avocados, cellos), rather than thumboes (compare potatoes, tomatoes etc). The term is a combination of the words thumb and typo. Typo refers to a small mistake in a printed document, and dates back to the late 19th century, when it first appeared as an abbreviation for the expression typographical error.

Thumbo follows in the footsteps of other coinages relating to thumb on keyboard problems, such as the 1990s Nintendo thumb, referring to the repetitive strain injury caused by persistent use of video game controllers. This was later followed by BlackBerry thumb, a similar ailment relating to compulsive use of handheld PDAs like the BlackBerry®. On the same theme, the expression thumb generation first appeared in the early noughties to describe the generation born after 1985, people who have never known a world in which mobile phones and other electronic devices weren't a fundamental part of everyday life.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 18th May 2010.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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