Kathleen Murphy column: Confessions of a 'fat thumb syndrome' victim

I read once that it helps if you imagine the autocorrect function in your phone as a little elf that desperately wants to help and please you, but is in fact quite drunk and therefore can do neither.

BSP Kathleen Murphy.png
Kathleen Murphy
We are part of The Trust Project.

I have fat thumb syndrome.

In actuality, I don’t think my thumbs are oversized in any way. They have performed many tasks in my life with the grace and usefulness one would expect of our opposable digits. They grasp my coffee cup when my mind can’t yet comprehend that it’s awake. They nicely balance my pen so I can write. I have watched them gracefully reaching for middle "C" on the rare occasion I remember that I can play the piano.

But hand me a smartphone and watch as my thumbs type words and sentences that make me think a monkey typed them.

I try to console myself with the knowledge that my typing teacher at Woodland Junior High School (RIP) taught me how to type with all 10 digits rather than just my thumbs — and that was 37 years ago. I’ve had plenty of practice over the ensuing decades, and I’m still not that good at it. I regularly mistype Duluth as “Dilith," and my name as “Kathlrrn.” I spend a lot of time back-spacing.

So it should come as no surprise that typing with only my thumbs has proven to be a challenge. And because the phone’s keyboard is actually a smooth screen with no way to “feel” the keys, my thumbs feel fat as they regularly hit the wrong keys, typing things like “glsf” rather than the intended “glad," which then, unhelpfully, autocorrects to the word “flag."


I read once that it helps if you imagine the autocorrect function in your phone as a little elf that desperately wants to help and please you, but is in fact quite drunk and therefore can do neither. This mindset does help quell my irritation, but not much.

No, Sir Dial-a-Lot, (if you are a regular reader you’ll remember that I recently thought this would be a good name for my phone, were I ever of the mindset to name it. Which I am not), I don’t want to ”brine” my things rather than “bring” them. Autocorrect regularly overestimates my interest in home food preservation.

“This morning” seems like a much better guess as to what I meant to type rather than “Thai Moroni," but I suppose that could be another regional assumption. Were we in Thailand, maybe that would make sense.

And while we’re at it, I type “were” way more than the apostrophe version of “we are." Please stop assuming I meant to type an apostrophe.

I don’t want to go anywhere right “Joe," I want to go right “now.” For the record, I never want to do anything Joe. I’m not sure I even know a Joe. I mean, I likely do, there are a lot of them in these parts. But why does autocorrect regularly assume I’m typing a name? The word “don’t” is a common word, one we all have to type on occasion, I would assume, but my little elf — bless his inebriated soul — seems to think I have a dear friend named “Donny."

I’m not sure I can entirely blame my little elf. The truth is, I notice my “fat thumb syndrome” becomes noticeably worse when I am tired, rushed or even slightly of the same mindset as my elf. One glass of wine does it, actually. Once, while I was in the middle of baking bread, I distractedly responded to a friend’s text that I was going to “brine her a lot of bananas once they we’re out of the oblong.” Notice the unnecessary apostrophe. It doesn’t even make sense.

My friend, in good grace, did figure out that I meant to say I was going to “bring” her a “loaf of bread” once they “were out of the oven,” but I’m not entirely sure how she got there.

Maybe she’s a victim of fat thumb syndrome, too, and just innately understands. I should tell her about the drunk elf.


Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth. You can reach her at .

Related Topics: DULUTH
What to read next
My husband brought this magnificent pillow into our marriage and we’ve been unable to find a pair.
"Home with the Lost Italian" food writer Sarah Nasello says this pasta salad is loaded with bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado.
"Fielding Questions" columnist Don Kinzler also advises a reader on the best time of year to divide and share rhubarb.
"Growing Together" columnist Don Kinzler says measures taken on a hot, windy day can save plant lives.