Strange but true: The positive QWERTY effect
Q It's been called the "quirky effect" but more formally termed the "QWERTY" effect." You've probably been affected by this one many times yourself. Do you know what it is?
A It may be hard to believe, but studies have found that people "have more positive emotional associations with words that have a higher ratio of letters from the right side of the QWERTY keyboard — those from "y," "h" and "n" onward," says Chris Baraniuk in "New Scientist" magazine. Not only did English, Dutch and Spanish speakers rate more positively those words with a higher right-side letter ratio — even made-up words like "ploke" or "pleek"— but baby names with a similar ratio also were more popular after QWERTY keyboards became common in the 1960s.
In one current study, researchers David Garcia and Markus Strohmaier examined millions of English-language product names and book and film titles appearing on Amazon, YouTube, Rotten Tomatoes and others, and found the QWERTY effect all over the web. But as they point out, that doesn't mean the products will be more successful.
Still, says American University's Naomi Baron, the correlation is fascinating though not clear cut: Is it because words with a higher right-side ratio are easier to type or rather that more vowels appear on that side? Suggests Baron, "We don't put emotions into most of our consonants, we put them into our vowels."
Q New York Yankees fans and baseball lovers everywhere, how did famed manager Billy Martin come by his rather storied name?
A No, he was not born William Martin but rather Alfred Manuel Martin Jr., says Dan Lewis in his book "Now I Know." When Billy was quite young, his father "skipped town ... and around the same time his maternal grandmother started calling him 'Bello'— the Italian-masculine for 'beautiful.'" Because his mother hated her ex-husband, she adopted "Billy" as her young son's nickname and kept his true name from him. Reportedly, it wasn't until Billy started school and his teacher called out "Alfred Martin" from the roster that he came to realize — after ignoring her at first — that he and this "Alfred Martin" were one and the same.
Q Chin up now as we try to explain what the human chin might be good for. Can you hazard a guess?
A Anthropologists point out that apes and our Homo ancestors are chinless. "The chin sticks out, so to speak, as a distinguishing human trait," says Jeff Wheelwright in "Discover" magazine. But how or why it evolved is unclear. Did the tongue muscles during the repetitive action of speech trigger an anchoring of bone? Or did the mechanical stresses of eating do it? Yet if the chin evolved to aid chewing or speech, it should be the same size in men and women, and it's not ("sexual dimorphism" is the norm). Rather, chins do figure prominently in facial attractiveness: "Females seemingly prefer men with a broad or square chin, males fancy females with a narrow chin." Call this the "come-hither" chin.
As Timothy Bromage of the NYU College of Dentistry argues, "just because the chin didn't evolve for some grand purpose doesn't make it valueless: For one, it helps us maintain an open airway by giving room to the voice box and tongue." Also, the chin is a secondary consequence of adaptations that make us human, including upright posture and our large brains.
In other words, "the chin is a small moving part in a grand scheme," Wheelwright concludes.
Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at firstname.lastname@example.org
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.