Here is my idea of a great question:

"Key thob" and "key fob"

It turns out whole bunch of people say "key thob" instad of "key fob" - enough for Google to automatically correct for it. However I don't think any other English language site or blog has picked up on it. How can you get from 'fob' to 'thob' and not notice you are making a mistake?

Is this not exactly the sort of question that this site should address?

  • 2
    As an aside: I think it's great to see someone stand up for a question. I haven't done it at EL&U, and I think we'll need to do it a lot more now that we're being encouraged to close more aggressively. Nov 17, 2011 at 12:08
  • @Matt: Cool...thanks for your detailed response.
    – cindi
    Nov 17, 2011 at 14:25
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    Cindi, I'll note that the fact that Google offers to correct "key thob" to "key fob" is not significant. It does that for all sorts of misspellings, common or not; the only detail that matters is whether it can guess the more common spelling based on what you wrote. (What would be significant would be if it offered to "correct" fob to thob, but thankfully we're not there yet.)
    – Marthaª
    Nov 17, 2011 at 14:54
  • @Martha, you will and you will be correct. Google does a lot more than I first thought.
    – cindi
    Nov 17, 2011 at 15:32

3 Answers 3


I disagree with Matt, and think that the question can be reopened. The key points are that thob for fob occurs with more than chance regularity, and it has a significant, interesting linguistic aspect to why this error occurs. Once the question is reopened I intend to answer it with these things in mind.

  • my initial impression of the question was, to be blunt, that it was crazy or stupid or failingly trying to ameliorate, uneducated. 'Thob' is just not a word (yes, we're all descriptivist here, but you only get there by starting off with a great sense of prescriptivism; what do -you- allow in scrabble games?).

  • my not being a BrE speaker, the th-fronting just does not pop into my head as a possibility. Now that that comes up, the question becomes -very- interesting, and that maybe there -is- some kind of 'thing' happening.

  • I think we've all followed the process well as it could:

    • question posted
    • question closed because some think it is closable
    • lots of discussion in comments about difficulties with google and google ngrams.
    • meta-question posted to encourage reopening (with evidence that it is interesting).
    • question reopened.

So I think this worked out well.


I voted to close this question, and I stand by that.

Firstly: I disagree with the Google statistics provided.

I found that "key thob" comes up less than 0.1% of the times that "key fob" does:

key thob Google stats


key fob Google stats

That Google auto corercts thob to fob is not significant - it does the same for dob

key dob Google correction

and "key dob" gets more hits than "key thob".

key dob Google stats

Is that a significant term?

I admit that these stats could be regional – I am using Google in the UK.

Secondly: if one trys to look up key thob in an online or paper resource, then one finds that it does not exists as a term.

Thirdly: differing pronunciation is rife within English. This is not remarkable. Take, for example, how most Londoners pronounce thief as feef. I even know some people who over correct the typical th- to f- mispronunciation and end up substituting th- for f- (e.g. fewer -> thewer, fifth -> thith, etc.).

I do not see merit in a question that asks "why do I mispronounce this word?" when it is only them and a scant few others who do it. The answer won't help the internet at large, or them particularly.

  • 1
    Dob is a typo. Thob clearly isn't. That's an essential point. Thob does not exist in an online or paper resource. That's why it's a good question. Systematic mispronounciations, especially really weird ones like 'thob' for 'fob', are a fascinating aspect of the language.
    – cindi
    Nov 17, 2011 at 11:26
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    I don't follow. His mistake comes from the fact that he learned it wrong, so have a few others. It's not significant, nor is it possible to find out how this happened, without a substantial investment of time and money, which probably wouldn't bear fruit. Finding out won't prove anything that we don't already know - sometimes people learn things wrong. Nov 17, 2011 at 11:33
  • thob vs dob - that dob could be a typo is not an essential point. They are both mistakes — dob a more frequent one — and not significant ones at that. Nov 17, 2011 at 11:38
  • @cindi: I do agree that discovering how a significant mispronunciation spread is interesting. I do not see this as significant, nor do I think we can discover its, undoubtedly, various origins. Nov 17, 2011 at 11:46
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    As has been noted on this site many times, the "number of results" provided by Google is essentially meaningless.
    – Marthaª
    Nov 17, 2011 at 14:41
  • @Marthaª then it should not be considered at all. But either way key thob is not in significant use. I was merely fighting fire with fire. Nov 17, 2011 at 14:42
  • Also, the results for "key dob" are almost all of key + DOB with some symbols between them that Google ignores, despite the quotes around the search terms. Thus, that comparison is irrelevant. (And, to illustrate my earlier point, there are only 463 results returned if you page to the end.)
    – Marthaª
    Nov 17, 2011 at 14:46
  • The search results show that key thob is in significant use. You have to look at the actual pages returned, not the numbers. The results are clearly of people using "key thob" when they ought to be using "key fob". You might not like it, but the fact remains that this is a not-uncommon error.
    – Marthaª
    Nov 17, 2011 at 14:49
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    @Marthaª The comparison is relevant because of the number of results produced, not their content. The question was basing its assertion on the number. If you wish to ignore the number of hits Google brings back, that's fine. Most of the time it's not a good metric. Saying that the content of the search result invalidates it is wrong because the content was never in question. Nov 17, 2011 at 14:57
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    @Marthaª I disagree that 5390 hits, many of which are just the same post multiple times, is significant. Nov 17, 2011 at 14:59
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    Sigh. Lemme try to "chew this into your mouth", as my mother would say. Google finds 491 pages that use "key thob" in contexts where "key fob" would be correct, and 620 pages that use "key fob" correctly. Google also finds 463 pages where the word key is used somewhere near the abbreviation DOB. Thus, it appears that "key thob" is a not-uncommon misspelling of "key fob", while "key dob" is not a phrase that actually occurs. Please stop confusing the hit count with the search results.
    – Marthaª
    Nov 17, 2011 at 15:06
  • @Marthaª - OK I get what you mean now. I still don't agree with you. Nov 17, 2011 at 16:03
  • @Marthaª: Actually, Google will display only 1000 results for any search, regardless of the number it has. I have the 991st through the 1000th results for "key fob" on my screen right now. But you can't determine from that how many it has in total, since it intentionally limits results. The message it gives if you try to go beyond is "Sorry, Google does not serve more than 1000 results for any query. (You asked for results starting from 1000.)".
    – Charles
    Nov 18, 2011 at 21:52
  • @Charles, I was comparing the number of results with similar pages omitted, which today is around 630 for "key fob" and 497 for "key thob". The 1000-result limit doesn't come into play unless you repeat the search and tell it to return all pages. (But in that case, both "key fob" and "key thob" hit the limit, and thus there's no objective way to evaluate how accurate Google's estimated number of results is.)
    – Marthaª
    Nov 18, 2011 at 22:16
  • @Marthaª: Sure there is, the total number reported by Google. It's not precise -- it can be off by a factor of 1.5 or more. But we're talking about a thousandfold difference, for which that suffices.
    – Charles
    Nov 18, 2011 at 22:26

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