Mighty Red Pen

March 2, 2009

When Cupertino strikes

Filed under: Uncategorized — mighty red pen @ 2:34 pm
Tags: , , ,

Hat tip to Kasey for this little tidbit by Mark Peters on the Cupertino effect, “How Spellcheckers Wreak Havoc.” And boy, do they ever:

This type of error is called the Cupertino effect because an old version of spell-check (in Word 97) used to offer Cupertino—the name of a northern California city that is home to Apple—as the first suggestion to replace the word cooperation, which in British English is supposed to have a hyphen. That strange replacement produced bizarre phrases that can still be found in places like the United Nations website, which features intriguing phrases (“…teaching and learning methods that stress participation, Cupertino, problem-solving and respect for differences…”) and lofty goals (“…the strengthening of international peace and Cupertino, should emanate from adults and be instilled in children…”). These words would inspire us all if they didn’t sound so batty.

. . .

Speaking of names, they are particularly vulnerable to being Cupertino’d. According to some errors that popped up last year, Barack Obama did not defeat John McCain, but John Moccasin did lose to Barack Boatman. Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Sam Brownback occasionally were transformed into Rot Paul, Mike Hoecake, and Sam Blowback, names more appropriate for movie stars in various genres. Visual Thesaurus Executive Producer Ben Zimmer has been a prime Cupertino collector, bringing many whacked-out examples to light. My favorites are Lord Voltmeter (Harry Potter’s Lord Voldemort) and Muttonhead Quail Movement (Pakistan’s Muttahida Quami Movement).

I’ve mentioned one of my favorite examples of this before (the spellchecker turned Rodney King into Rodent King), but here’s another that was spotted in a recommendation: A candidate’s rare ability was turned into her rear ability. Oh my.

Got any favorites? Please share.



  1. So what was the spellchecker’s problem with ‘rare’?

    Comment by JD (The Engine Room) — March 3, 2009 @ 11:41 am | Reply

  2. That is such a good question, I really don’t know. In fact, maybe it wasn’t Cupertino at all, maybe it was just a Freudian slip or, better yet, maybe the recommender MEANT to write it!

    Comment by mighty red pen — March 3, 2009 @ 8:10 pm | Reply

  3. I recall a work colleague, upon a fresh install of a word processing application, promptly going into the dictionary to remove the word “pubic”. I thought it funny, but a bit odd, so I asked why. He told me that he had been involved with a major embarrassment a few years earlier in which he was part of team that put together slides for some Exec to use in a meeting. Despite the multiple eyeballs that reviewed it, the deck managed to be projected with a sentence where ‘public’ had been replaced with ‘pubic’, but the context of use kept the sentence sensible (if not embarrassing – something along the lines of “The CEO’s large pub(l)ic appearance was applauded by shareholders..”). He reasoned that he’d never be in a work situation where ‘pubic’ was used, so he just deleted from the dictionary to prevent the mistake from ever happening again.

    Comment by JJR — March 5, 2009 @ 4:07 pm | Reply

    • That’s really not a bad idea … if I had a nickel for every time someone has told me of this particular one … I saw it happen to a college friend on a final paper her senior year. Ouch.

      Comment by mighty red pen — March 5, 2009 @ 7:59 pm | Reply

  4. Here’s my favorite.

    We received a manuscript that, according to spellcheck, contained NO spelling errors. This made me suspicious. While the manuscript, in fact, contained no spelling errors, it did have a serious problem with usage.

    My favorite line from the manuscript: “Everyone makes mystics.”

    Would that be a meta-mistake? (I never met a mistake like this.)

    Comment by preciseedit — March 7, 2009 @ 2:29 pm | Reply

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