Auto(in)correct has led to some hilarious, and sometimes not so hilarious, errors being seen by millions - or if you're lucky just your closest family.
"CRUMBLE bread sticks into a mixing bowl. Cover with warm water. Let soak for 2 to 3 minutes or until soft. Drain. Stir in prostitute, provolone, pine nuts, 1/4 cup oil, parsley, salt, and pepper. Set aside." Wait, wait, wait… Stir in what? The last time WriteStuff checked braciola does not contain any prostitutes. It does however contain prosciutto. So what happened there? The culprit was the Cupertino effect.
The Cupertino effect derives its name from the habit of early spellcheckers to replace the hyphenated spelling of co-operation with Cupertino – a city in California best known for being the headquarters of Apple Inc. The more common spelling in the US is cooperation – with no hyphen – and the replacement with Cupertino has led to such errors as 'South Asian Association for Regional Cupertino' ending up in official documents.
Of course post-editing checking by a human would most likely have spotted these errors, but this doesn't always happen - even in bigger organisations and businesses. Over the years spell-checking in word processing software has improved greatly, but there have still been some amusing, and some less amusing, errors that made it online, or worse still to print.
At times co-operation has been shoved aside in favour of copulation, leading to one communiqué from the Southern African Development Community reading, "The Heads of State and Government congratulated SATCC for the crucial role it plays in strengthening copulation and accelerating the implementation of regional programmes in this strategic sector." Indeed!
But of course this problem crops up with many different words which spell-checkers have an issue with - a process sometimes known as 'spill-chucking'. Even The New York Times can be susceptible to the occasional error, leading to this apology, "Because of an editing error, a sports article in some copies on Sunday about the University of Alabama's 6-3 football victory over the University of Tennessee misstated the given name of a linebacker who is a leader of the Alabama defense. He is DeMeco Ryans, not Demerol." Demerol is in fact the common name for an opioid analgesic drug in the US.
These days smartphones are the main culprits, as well as sloppy typing, but spell-checkers still struggle with less common words and names. In fact there are now entire websites devoted to autocorrect errors, one of the best of which is Damn You Auto Correct! Such websites invite people to send errors they have received, or indeed made, for the entertainment of others.
Think of poor Hannah, and the shock she got on receiving a message from her father reading, "Your mom and I are going to divorce next month." Her father quickly followed-up with the explanation the he and his wife were in fact travelling to Disney, but not before Hannah had to sit down for fear of fainting. Hannah explained that she originally thought the error was due to her father's 'fat-fingers' typing' - where people make errors on smartphones due the small size of the virtual keyboard, often striking the wrong key in error.
iPhones, Android phones and other smartphones try to cut out 'fat-fingers errors' by remembering the user's most common phrases and words, and also taking into account which characters are close the one being hit and seeing if there may have been an error made and suggesting, or making, a correction. But again computers deciding what a human wants to say can lead to problems. The New York Times gives the example of, "an invitation to a 'boardgame night' [that] got changed to a 'bisexuals night' — because the iPhone's dictionary included board game only with a space in the middle, and bisexuals happened to fulfill the 'fat-finger' proximity criteria."
Errors involving smartphones may be quickly remedied, or then again they may not. Mistakes involving materials intended for publication on the Internet, or elsewhere, may have altogether more serious implications. No spell check is flawless and the human eye, though not without its problems, can at least recognise on the emotion, sarcasm, wit or innuendo which computers as yet cannot.
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