There’s not a whole lot to look at as you drive south on I-35 in North Texas, approaching the junction at Carl’s Corner where the highway recombines after splitting into east and west forks to take travelers to Dallas or Fort Worth, respectively. Which is perhaps why the Buc-ee’s billboard on that particular stretch of Texas road has caught the eye of so many travelers. Or maybe it’s the fact that, instead of “howdy,” the sign says “hodwy” instead.
Is it a typo? A stunt by the attention-hungry beaver, deliberately calibrated to go viral? A secret third thing? Let’s assess the options.
There’s more than one kind of typo, as we learned when trying to understand why so many Texans type “Forth Worth” instead of “Fort Worth.” That kind of mistake is what cognitive scientists call a “smart error,” where your brain is anticipating what the next item in a sequence is likely to be. Basically, that typo happens because you’re already thinking about “Worth” while typing the “Fort” part. That’s not the case with “hodwy,” which would be classified as a “dumb error,” where you just make a mistake because your finger slipped or you hit the wrong key. No judgment toward anybody making either kind of error—smart folks can do both!—but while you might need to read a sentence that contains “Forth Worth” a few times to catch the mistake, you can spot the problem with “hodwy” from hundreds of feet away while driving a speeding car.
Is it possible that “hodwy” was a legit typo by whoever designed the billboard, and that said typo slipped past everyone who was involved in approving a project that costs, at minimum, several thousand dollars? Sure, these things happen! Type “hodwy” into Google and you’ll find a handful of links to others who made the same mistake—here’s Texas A&M misspelling the word to refer to the university’s HOWDY portal for students. But there’s another possibility, which is that Buc-ee’s—which loves to attract attention by any means necessary—transposed the letters on purpose to catch your eye. That’s the whole point of a billboard, after all, and the li’l beaver isn’t above becoming the butt of the joke in order to do so. (See: “Eat Here, Get Gas,” “I Like Big Buc-ee’s and I Cannot Lie,” “My Overbite Is Sexy.”) Buc-ee’s declined our request for an interview, so we can’t determine exactly what happened with any certainty, but the idea that perhaps the typo was intentional to create a more effective billboard seems pretty believable, as conspiracy theories go. To further support this theory, it’s worth noting that this isn’t even the first time that this particular message appeared on a Buc-ee’s billboard: The same error, or whatever it actually is, can also be found on a billboard promoting a location in Alabama. The two billboards aren’t identical—the mileage to the nearest store is different on each—so either the same person made the same “dumb mistake” twice, or somebody in a li’l red ballcap is messing with us.
Or perhaps there’s another possibility. Note that the billboard doesn’t merely say “hodwy,” it says “You Had Me at Hodwy.” That’s a play on the line delivered by native Texan Renée Zellweger at the climax of the 1996 romantic comedy classic Jerry Maguire, of course, but it also suggests that “hodwy” is meaningful to li’l Buc-ee. Does it perhaps have an interpretation that makes it neither a mistake nor a stunt, but something else entirely? Perhaps it’s an acronym! What might “HODWY” mean to Buc-ee’s? Perhaps it’s a Hygienic Outlet with Delightful Washrooms and Yummy [snacks]! Maybe it stands for the Highway Oasis with Dreamy Waterclosets, Y’all. Or even Here’re Our Decently Weird Yummies? We’ll admit that none of these exactly roll off the tongue, but we aren’t the ones who put “HODWY” on a billboard. We’re just trying to make sense of it.
Regardless of what message the billboard is meant to send, though, we’re talking about it, which means that the beaver’s path toward world domination has advanced, however incrementally. At this rate, Buc-ee will be saying hodwy to visitors all across America in no time.