Saturday, October 07, 2006

Beware the Cupertino Effect

We've all done it - made a slip of the finger (or two), done a spell check, and gotten a totally unrelated word as the correct spelling. Over at Language Log, they've termed this the "Cupertino Effect".

Why? Because a simple slip of the fingers when you are typing "cooperation" might be "cooperatino", which some spell checkers (including older versions of Microsoft Word) suggest should be corrected to "Cupertino". Many people apparently run a spell check and unthinkingly accept every correction offered, resulting in hundreds of documents gratuitously including the word Cupertino. A similar problem occurs if you type "identified" as "dentified", resulting in odd police reports in which suspects were "denitrified".

The moral is that no spell checker is perfect, so automatically accepting every word suggested is as likely to introduce as many errors as it corrects. There is no substitute for a human editor.

(The spell checker I use in Firefox, Spellbound, suggests "cooperation" for "cooperatino" and "identified" for "dentified". However it doesn't recognize "denitrified", suggesting "nitrification" as a substitute. Not too bad -- unless you type "coopertino", for which the top suggested corrected word is "Cupertino's".)

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