Letters vs numbers. What comes after j?

Originally posted December 2011

Spot quiz

What number comes after 7?

What number comes before 254,67?

What letter comes after j?

What letter comes before q?

I’m a corporate communicator. I earn my living working with words; words made up of letters. Yet ask me the quiz questions above and I have to mutter the relevant section of the alphabet song under my breath to get the answers right.

This is an issue that has been bothering me for ages. Consequently, I’ve tested it out on friends, colleagues and the occasional random stranger. Everyone appears to struggle with the sequence of letters, yet numbers pose little problem.

Ok, there are technically only 10 numbers – just arranged in increasingly longer strings – compared to 26 letters (in English) so it’s probably logical that we can see the number pattern faster. But, are the stats alone enough to explain the difference in recall?

I’ve searched Google and can’t find anything to explain this phenomenon, except the vaguely referenced but oft-quoted research that shows we can recognise mixed up words as long as the first and last letters are correct.

I can’t be the only person who has had this thought, though it appears I’m the only one perturbed enough to blog about it.

That’s it. No insight, no clever summary, just a random thought. Oh, and an excuse to include this YouTube clip. Memorise it to impress your friends or drag out at boring dinner parties.

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Posted in Random thoughts, Words and language

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