Word Lover

Beth-Ann sent along this fascinating story about a French experiment to find out if baboons can recognize four letter words.

It turns out they can.

Shown a series of letter clumps such as BRUU, ITCS and KITE, the baboons were able to distinguish word from non-word about 75% of the time. The highest scoring baboon got it right 80% of the time.

Does that mean baboons can read? Probably not. After all, the best word-baboon still got 20% wrong. I think my job is safe.

But it does show that baboons are able to recognize patterns with some consistency. And that they will do just about anything for a wheat pellet. But baboons telling words from non-words is just a first step. Though they don’t know anything right now about putting sentences together, can baboon poetry be far behind?

Baboons knows what words is
Baboons knows words what ain’t
In tests baboons shows plenty brains
baboons got no poclaint.

Poclaint – that one be not a word
It did not get me treat
I know them patterns pretty good
And which werarrds is sweet.

Werarrds? Is just a pile of sticks
I not be muchh correct.
But what baboon kind be would me
if always so perfect?

Do you compare yourself to others, smarts-wise? If a baboon was a better speller than you, would that hurt?

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96 thoughts on “Word Lover”

  1. i am guilty of comparing myself to others worse yet to compare my kids to others. the piano recital where the other kids try lots harder to be virtuoso than my kids do. practice is like pulling teeth. i compare in school where the grades and teachers have a lot to do with how the success is measured. many of the teachers i would not pay to have my kids tutored by and some i would hate to have my kids miss a days worth of learning from, so i guess i compare them too. sports beg comparisons and my son, the former athelete yesterday gave me hell for recalling how little i respect his coaches for their comparison of kids offerings and the wrong conclusions they came to again and again. i compare art i like to art i dont by walking by the stuff i dont care about and the authors music, time expenditure all get the litmus tests as to the time i set aside for them. i choose one thing over another all the time and maybe it is a reward based decision but it is a pain in the neck response because i dont like agonizing over the choices in front of me. i tend to go the opposite way and pick something i can live with on gut feeling very quickly and move on rather than do an in depth evaluation and plus /minus list kind of deal. this blog is not as good as yesterdays topic but it is much better than the one we did last week. president obama is better than george bush was and butterscotch is better than peppermint. these are commonly known facts but they are kind of like comparisons. the sun is not out today and that makes it a less desirable day than yesterday. the rock bend musical festival is the best value in the music biz today and boys are easier t raise than girls but make you smile differently. i could go on but how would i know when to stop.

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  2. when i compare the names of the two researchers in the french study, jonathan grainer and joel fagot, i would choose me graingers name to be one i would rather go by and mr fagot as the one i would remember.

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      1. Not me, although the trivia question this morning at my coffee shop reminded me that the Templars met their end on Friday the 13th. Maybe there is reason to be afraid….

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  3. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    I think we are sitting here reading this thinking, “I always knew it. A real life baboon has custody of one of tim’s keyboards.”

    Meanwhile, if a baboon is a better speller than I am, I can accept it. The baboon cannot use spell check and I can. There has been so much research done on intelligence and all its subcategories. The one thing that does not guarantee being intelligent is being an academic success. That indicates compliance and the ability to conform to an identified standard (yes, I was a very good student). This does not indicate the ability to creatively solve a problem. Creative problem-solving it what really gets me excited.

    OT–I had an elbow check-up yesterday. The Xray shows healing and the PT is helping to promote “flexation and extension of the elbow.” Phew. Even the bone chip is “re-ostifying.” PJ, I hope you are healing, as well. Your typing looks good!

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    1. Good news, Jacque! Elbows are so useful when they workd properly. I am taking a mental health day today, as I was starting to feel rather crispy and burnt out.

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        1. Being able to blast music with no one else at home is really the cure-all. Daughter is perfoming in the High School talent show tonight. She is performing her own arrangement of recent pop songs and accompanying herself on the piano. She has been practicing this for MONTHS, and I have had to listen to the SAME words and SAME rhythms and SAME chords for the whole time and boy, is it nice be at home by myself! I find clean laundry and perfectly made beds that are works of art supremely comforting.

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        2. When child was still doing team gymnastics, the most dreaded weekend of the year was when our gym hosted the sectional meet. For Levels 4-6, you heard exactly the same music every 4 minutes for 2 days straight. AARRGGGHHHH.

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    2. Thanks, Renee. So, “re-ostifying” is the medical term for the white cloud around the fracture that I saw on the x-ray? Who knew? So glad you’re doing better. About my typing, I’m able to use the right hand for keyboarding for short periods of time. It’s a definite plus when your dominant hand and arm are funtioning.

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  4. My favorite part of the research is that the French scientists used English not French words with the baboons because “English is the language of science.” I guess they compared English with their language and decided it wasn’t good enough for baboons.

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    1. i think thats it just messes up the experiment when the baboons drink red wine. i dont think you can speak french without a glass of wine and a cigarette

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  5. Good morning to all. I shouldn’t tell you this, but I’m not as humble as I look or think I look. Secretely I think I am very smart. I have found out that it is best to keep this high opinion of myself to myself. How does the saying go – everybody, except you and I, seems to be kind of dumb, and I’m not sure about you. Okay, I’m not really that arrogant. Just joking. I know, when it comes to spelling, I am not very far ahead of baboons.

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  6. In HS I thought I was very smart. Then I went to the U of Chi where are folks of real intelligence most from very intellectually rich backgrounds. I have never thought I was smart since then and never compare myself to others on that score.

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    1. there is smart and there is smart. i enjoy chatting with the u of chicago kind of smart guys because sometimes i find them capable of having an intelligent conversation but too often i find they are book smart and cant partake in the parts of discussion and life i enjoy. i would be ok having coffee with you clyde. i am not so sure about the smart guys from the u of chicago.
      which reminds me. i went to the 36th and hwy 100 micro center and hte geeks in there make the guys in the geek squad look like jackson pollack. that is a comparison beyond compare. a true study in the way their brain works differently than mine does. i could sit in amazement for hours.

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  7. I am highly critical of other psychologists’ report writing. I think I do a pretty good job, but I don’t have the skill that husband has with composition and clarity. He is a terrific writer. I burn with shame for a misspelled word in a report. I learned my trade in Canada, complete with Canadian spellings which I consider more elegant that US spellings. My reports are transcribed by my secretary, and she doesn’t really like adding all those u’s to words like colour and labour, so I have resigned myself to unadorned US spellings. SIgh!

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      1. The one Canadianism I have retained is zed, as I cannot break myself of the habit of referring to zed scores when I have to discuss statistics. ZEE scores just sound so lame.

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  8. Morning all. This is a nice collision of my worlds, because we just talked about this story last night at my (other) book club.

    I’ll admit that I love knowing things. I love finding things out. If I didn’t have to work, I’d go back to school in a heart beat. And all who know me on this blog know that while I have a pretty good grasp of English grammar and spelling, it sometimes gets away from me — and that doesn’t bother me too much!

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  9. I used to think intelligence was on a scale like the results of a golf tournament, each of us tagged with a particular number and rank. But that isn’t so. As the years go by I understand that each of us is smart in different ways. To be fair, I should admit that each of us is probably dumb in different ways . . . I sure am! I am canny about some aspects of human nature, but give me something to figure out that has a number in it and I’ll get it wrong 13.5 times out of 12.

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      1. There are three kinds of people in the world…those who can do math in their heads, and those who can’t.

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    1. was talking to my daughter about one of the people who used to be on her basketball team and their daughter who is a special needs student because of the way she processes information. the school thought she was unable to learn because of her problem. her parents got to the bottom of it and they got her on some track or other to make learning possible. i told my daughter that ill bet she does something else really well and effortlessly and my daughter disagreed and said that most everything appears to be a real effort for that girl. i dont know one way or the other but i like to think if you are math deprived you have an extra dose of creative poetry brain or something like that.

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    1. Did we lose spell checking when we got ads?
      There is no connection, of course, between the ability to spell and intelligence–and between spelling and much of anything at all. But there is a connection between pain and intelligence. It fascinates me actually how dumb I get when my pain levels are high. I wonder why that happens.

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    2. Spell check is still there but you may have to ‘right click’ on your entry and tell it to check spelling.

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      1. mine did that a while but now it underlines the words it thinks i should care about and i decide to go back or not depending on if i have hit the send button already of not.

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  10. Yeah, as I have gotten older and been out in the working world I have realized, too, that people are smart in different ways. Even my brother and I who share some problem solving skills go about our problem solving in different ways – he’s a mechanical, how does this work, math kinda guy, and I am more of the visual, pull apart the systems behind it kinda gal (which is why he is the mechanical engineer and I wound up a technical writer). And I have become the resource on our team when there are questions of spelling or grammar (I tease my grand-boss about only keeping me around ‘cuz he uses me as his personal Strunk & White “Elements of Style”), but I am by no means infallible on that front – and am a lot less knowledgeable about things like statistics and finessing higher-ups to your way of thinking.

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  11. I’ve never thought of myself as “smart” since failing 9th. grade algebra. My only claim to intelligence has always been in the category of emotional intelligence, and even this has been cumulative (not innate) over decades. As one saying states: comparing is shaming.

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  12. I know for sure I was a lot smarter when I was 16 than I am now; or at least I thought I was! How can it be that the more I’ve read, the more I’ve learned, the keener I’m aware of how little I know, and how rarely I’m certain of anything?

    Do I compare myself to others? Sure. Usually because I marvel at how differently we perceive the same situation, or solve the same problem.

    I’m in the process of reading a book written by a friend of mine. It’s called The Dodge: Guts, Glory and Living at Full-Throttle; it’s a memoir. Because it describes many details, places and occurrences I’m very familiar with, I’m constantly marveling at how differently Anne perceives the same reality. She has gift for making everything sound much more appealing and interesting that I thought it was. I suspect that’s why she’s a writer and I’m not.

    Being out-spelled by a baboon is not something I worry about; I know for sure there are many baboons in the present company that can do just that. tim’s and Linda’s posts are a constant source of marvel for me as I plod along my own more mundane path.

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    1. got a house full of those smart people with their dumb ol dad. some have passed 16 but they didnt go away to come back and find out how much ive learned yet, meanwhile the cumulative dadmarginalism has become the religion of the young adults in my house. even the 5th grader is poised. the trail is a spot where comparisons take a rest. thank you all for that

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  13. My mother can’t spell at all. She’s no dummy, graduated from Macalester in the 40’s with dual majors in sociology and theater. Today I’m sure she would be diagnosed as dyslexic. She had a letter from a psychologist to show all her professors saying that she wasn’t retarded, she just couldn’t spell, cut her some slack please. When she would have to write excuses for me when I missed a day of school, she asked me every time how to spell sincerely. She couldn’t use a dictionary, because she couldn’t get close enough to the spelling for it to be of any use to her. She keeps a word list in a notebook but if she didn’t have it handy, it didn’t matter how many times she had written a word before, it never came to her. I can’t tell you how many times I told her how to spell ‘with.’ Amazingly, she is an avid reader, but if she reads aloud, her pronunciation is goofy and she skips some words. To this day, sending a card or letter is torture for her because she writes it out on tablet paper first, then has someone correct it for her before she copies it to the card or stationary. So yeah, poor spelling does not equal low IQ.

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    1. Very interesting. My mother, who was Irish, couldn’t spell either. Only she didn’t know it or didn’t admit it. That got me in trouble in school when I started learning English as my first foreign language. I would rely on her to point out spelling errors and such in my written
      assignments, and inevitably she’d have me “correct” words I had already spelled right. It took me a while to figure out that she was no help in that department at all. She certainly wasn’t stupid, but her fifth grade education and the shame she felt about that, prevented her from ever admitting that she didn’t know how to spell.

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      1. One of my best friends spent part of her youth in England and Germany (Air Force brat). She learned enough British spelling to thoroughly confuse herself once she got back to the States, and to corrupt at least one spell-checker beyond all utility. She has a friend’s quote: “Trust the spell checker!” tacked above her computer, but she is forbidden to add any words to the lexicon.

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    2. I think I’m like a lot of folks who now consider good spelling as the ability to get close enough to the right spelling that the spell checker recognizes what I meant. Sometimes I can’t even get in the ballpark, and then the spell checker serves up humiliating garbage.

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      1. when i cant get close enough to figure out how to spell a word with spell checker i laugh and figure out another word that means the same thing. keeps me form using some of those two dollar words but it also keeps my synonym brain working

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    3. ive got a sister who has dislexia and they didnt figure it out untl she was in jr high. she grew up feeling dumb in schol but she knew she was smart. she had to figure out how to learn without being able to read. had to be a trick

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  14. I don’t compare myself the way I used to in school. When I was a kid, my smarts and my writing ability were all I had–I wasn’t athletic, pretty or socially ept, so I became “the brain”. Now I’m more secure and don’t need to show off as much…or maybe it’s just that opportunities to show off have decreased the older I’ve gotten? I hang around with a lot of very smart people, but I don’t think any of us rub our intelligence into our friends’ faces; we all seem to prefer to share knowledge and discuss rather than compete, which is so nice. I learn a lot from my poetry workshop!

    As for the other half of the question, if a baboon turned out to be a better speller than me I would be asking for the results to be checked. I’ve always been a terrific speller, though I never learned to spell out loud–I’d always throw the classroom spelling bees so I could get back to my book, which was so much more interesting than interacting with my classmates. I usually have to write things out, but on paper I’m hard to beat. The only problem I have sometimes is with pronunciation, like a lot of geeks: we grow up reading and have vast vocabularies, but never hear many of those words spoken out loud. I ran into that headlong at an early poetry reading, when I realized too late I didn’t know how to pronounce “sepulchral”. Slightly embarrassing, that.

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    1. I can relate to the difference between a written or verbal vocabulary, CG. Lots of words that I’ve encountered mostly in writing and whose meaning I know, I would be hard pressed to actually pronounce.

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    2. I think, Crow Girl, you have come up with an uncommonly precise definition of a Trail Baboon member. We are people who are familiar with words we haven’t heard pronounced, maybe because we are familiar with some mighty elegant words or because maybe we’re so damned geeky we don’t talk to people enough!

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    3. I run into the “can read it but can’t pronounce it” with my darling husband a lot – read voraciously as a kid (still does), but never heard a lot of the words he read pronounced out loud. My (non-BBC) book club calls those words “epitomes” (pronounced eh-pih-tohms – long “o” at the end, not eh-pih-toh-me with a long “e” at the end); words that we read one way for years and never connected to the spoken word until much much later.

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        1. No, Renee, the person who wrote Antee Gone was that remarkable woman, Anna Neemus. If you check, you’ll find that she wrote plays, created paintings and published novels in several different centuries.

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      1. eppi tomes and penny lope that great female heroine in the novels were a riot when i figured out what they were supposed to be.
        spell checker must have a trick or two you can do i’ve got it but i had two weeks of hell with word press to get to where i am today and i coudnt tell you how to duplicate it nor would i wish it on you.

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  15. I used to think I was smart (whatever that meant) but that my confidence in that area dwindles each year. It may be that I’m just more aware of what I don’t know but i’m afraid that it can be attributed to the general fuzziness that began to surround me after age 50.
    A teacher in high school said that I ought to be one of the best students in my (small) class. I assume that she got that idea from some standardized test that i had taken; i was always good at standardized tests. Perhaps that’s why my estimation of my smarts has taken a beating: I don’t get to take s.t. anymore to prove that i have them.
    I definitely agree that there are many kinds of smarts. As I’ve aged, I have become more and more aware of the categories in which I don’t excel.

    I’m a pretty good speller but mostly I know when I should look up a word.

    In fifth grade, I was in a spelling bee. I was supposed to spell “United States of America”. I concentrated really hard and managed to spell it correctly except that “of” became “ov”.

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    1. My most memorable misspelling was in 3rd grade. In a class spelling bee, I spelled cheese—chease. A lesson in humility for me. I was always the best reader and I think this was my 1st public mistake.

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  16. I grew up prizing my vocabulary and my ability to spell. I regretted the elimination of spelling bees because they hurt kids’ feelings (Why did they continue all those other races and contests that hurt my feelings?). I have mellowed and am willing to look at other measures of a person’s intelligence now. Still, I would be offended to be bested at spelling by a baboon (trail members excepted). As a consequence of a health problem and medication side effects I have had problems described as word-finding. When they got worse I discovered that some words are stored in my head by function so I was coming up with close words if not exact ones while others were stored phonetically so I was coming up with words with similar phonemes. I knew I was in trouble when I wanted to say swirl and instead came up with sword. Luckily my charming physician is somewhat word-oriented. When I said that it was a reflection of my general geekiness that I was fascinated by this bifurcated storage method. He assured me that it was OK to be fascinated since this was a reversible problem. I suppose if it becomes chronic I will lose interest in how my train stores words.

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    1. Beth-Ann, that’s a very interesting observation. Do you have a theory as to why that is? Does it have to do with when and how you first learned a word, or what?

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      1. PJ I am unclear about the reasons but as I continue to be addle brained I look forward to try and figure it out more.

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  17. Only slightly OT: The current Minn Post site has a column by Susan Perry in which she discusses research that shows people who “are religious” are happier than folks who do not define themselves that way. A new study puts a new light on that topic:

    “Belief in God or gods is not a prerequisite for a pleasurable existence, although it can make life easier,” Upson (the researcher) concludes. “Socializing with like-minded people on a regular basis, and living and working in a supportive community, can offer many of the same benefits.”

    Or, as one researcher told Upson: “Religion can certainly help people to be happier, but other things can help you do the same thing. A peaceful, cooperative society, even in the absence of religion, seems to have the same effect.”
    ————————————————————-
    Hmmm, who can think of an example of a non-religious community where like-minded people meet regularly in a supportive community? Think hard. Think hard.

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    1. Religious people may be happier, but at least some of them have the ability to make life UNhappier for other people.

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      1. Yes, I think you are right, Clyde. That doesn’t seem to me like it could be a valid study when that is the question.

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  18. A missing word: after scanning various sports and national and state news, I am again reminded we have the word “mistress” for a man’s repeated inappropriate female sex partner. But we have no word for a woman’s repeated inappropriate male sex partner. That lack says a lot. And why is it that a famous football coach “has” a mistress. Why doesn’t the female in the case “have” him? There are so many implications on so many levels about our language here.

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  19. Weighing in late here. Yes, I compare myself with others, smarts-wise and find myself at the bottom of the heap too often. I used to be a good speller, but I’ve declined a lot over the decades…I’m sure some baboons can spell better than I can now and it probably wouldn’t hurt that much, just confirm my suspoicions. However, maybe my spelling could improve if I had some tasty food rewards…

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