Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ah, Spellwrecker

The New Scientist will feature this article in its Dec. 1 issue:
IF YOU have ever received a document containing off-putting expressions such as "At your desecration" or "Sorry for the incontinence", then you have witnessed the havoc that can be wreaked by placing unthinking trust in spellcheckers. The problem is widespread enough to have acquired a name: the Cupertino effect.

Cupertino, a city in northern California, is home to computer giants Apple and Hewlett-Packard. It owes the dubious honour of sharing its name with a dumb error to the fact that some early spellcheckers flagged up the word "co-operation" if it was spelled without a hyphen. Type "cooperation," and they came up with the suggestion "Cupertino".

That problem was soon fixed, but a quick search of the UN website still turns up evidence of Cupertino carnage. There are references to the "South Asian Association for Regional Cupertino", "political, economic and trade Cupertino," and a "presentation on African-German Cupertino" - ...

It reminds us of when we were in college--not too far from Cupertino. The first Gulf War was in full swing, and we often carried stories about Saddam Hussein in the school newspaper. Spellchecker didn't know what to make of the name, and would inevitably suggest Sodomy Hussy.

Later, in our cub-reporter days, we had an editor who liked to spell-check and send, instead of reading stories. This could lead to interesting errors, so smart reporters always snuck into the production queue and read the stories after he touched them. Spellchecker once changed a source's name from "Wanda Coats" to "Panda Coats."

There's an eats, shoots and leaves joke in there somewhere, but we're too lazy to find it. Either that, or we're sodomy hussies. We can't decide.

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