A recent Associated Press wire story about the declining stock market contained an optimistic note from Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors. Orlando says the market is in decent shape, with two exceptions:
"Our view has been that the market, generally speaking, is in pretty good shape with the exception of the financial service companies and the consumer dictionary companies," he said.
The consumer dictionary companies? Are Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, et al. in trouble? Will they be needing a massive bailout from the Federal Reserve? Our lexicographical colleagues need not worry, since the AP article appears to be reflecting a different kind of dictionary trouble: the dreaded Cupertino effect.
The text above is how the article appears in many online sources, including Google News, Yahoo News, Time, Forbes, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Houston Chronicle, the Denver Post, and the AP's own website. So it must be true, right? Not if you check the AP story in the Washington Times or the Rocky Mountain News, where the crucial passage reads slightly differently:
"Our view has been that the market, generally speaking, is in pretty good shape with the exception of the financial service companies and the consumer discretionary companies," he said.
Kudos to the copy editors at those two newspapers for catching the error that their competitors missed. This certainly appears to be yet another "Cupertino," the name we use for spellchecker-induced errors (after the habit of older spellcheckers to suggest Cupertino as a "correction" for cooperation). Cupertinos come in two flavors: real words miscorrected into other words due to a gap in the spellchecker's dictionary, or misspelled words changed to the wrong word when the correct one is not listed as the spellchecker's first suggestion. This would seem to be an example of the latter, since discretionary is a word we'd expect to be in any good spellchecker's wordlist.
But what was the misspelling that led to a substitution of dictionary when discretionary was intended? Based on the lesson in spellchecker algorithms that Thierry Fontenelle of the Microsoft Natural Language Group provided a few months back, the misspelling would need to have a shorter "edit distance" to dictionary than discretionary. Since the difference between the two words is simply three deleted letters, that means two letters would have to be deleted from discretionary to make the edit distance closer to dictionary: thus, disctionary, dicrtionary, or dicetionary. Of those, dicetionary seems like the most plausible typo, though that's still a stretch. Any other ideas?