Cupertino yearbook tragedy!

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Will nothing stop the wanton destruction of the Cupertino Effect? The latest victims of exuberant spellchecking are high school students in Middletown, Pennsylvania. According to reports by the Newhouse News Service and the Associated Press, the newly published yearbook of Middletown Area High School contains the following student names:

  • Max Supernova
  • Kathy Airbag
  • Alexandria Impolite
  • William and Elizabeth Giver
  • Cameron Bandage
  • Courtney and Kayla Throwback

Those names were miscorrected via spellchecker suggestions from the students' actual names:

  • Max Zupanovic
  • Kathy Carbaugh
  • Alexandria Alessandra Ippolito
  • William and Elizabeth Givler
  • Cameron Bendgen
  • Courtney and Kayla Hrobak

This is reminiscent of another case of Cupertino carnage that I described in an OUPblog column on the phenomenon. As reported in the New Scientist last year, the April 2007 issue of Contemporary Sociology contained a review article with contributors' last names changed from Gareis to Agrees, Beavais to Beavers, Gerstel to Gretel, and Sarkisian to Sardinian. Lists of proper names seem particularly susceptible to mass spellchecker substitution. (The Middletown miscorrections appeared on four pages in the yearbook featuring the school's band, chorus, and student council.) Take care, editors, lest you Cupertinoize more innocent bystanders.

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25 Comments »

  1. Kate said,

    June 2, 2008 @ 3:17 pm

    Really? The spellchecker didn't correct any of those first names?

  2. dr pepper said,

    June 2, 2008 @ 3:39 pm

    Max Supernova would be a great name for a professional wrestler.

  3. Karen said,

    June 2, 2008 @ 4:00 pm

    Why on earth do so many people put their spell-checkers on auto-correct? I fully understand that the program can't contain all the names in the world, but surely – surely – no human being looked at a flagged Zupanovic and actually ACCEPTED Supernova as the kid's probable last name?

  4. john riemann soong said,

    June 2, 2008 @ 4:20 pm

    "will provide free stickers printed with the correct names."

    Talk about impolite.

  5. James Crippen said,

    June 2, 2008 @ 4:28 pm

    Is it “Cupertinoize” as you wrote, or “Cupertinize”? I’m having some trouble with the morphology here.

  6. Adrian Bailey said,

    June 2, 2008 @ 4:31 pm

    "It happens all the time, every year," Patrick said. "Look at any yearbook in the country."

    "Another yearbook published by Taylor … was delivered recently with 16 pages plagued by missing photos, misspelled words and gibberish filler text."

    It also happens all the time that people learn to steer clear of crap firms like Taylor Publishing.

  7. Rubrick said,

    June 2, 2008 @ 7:07 pm

    For her sake, I hope "Kathy Airbag" is not notably buxom. And that she's a graduating senior, soon to attend a college far from Middletown PA.

  8. Adrian Bailey said,

    June 2, 2008 @ 7:31 pm

    Taylor also don't seem to be familiar with the "ie before e except after c" rule: http://www.taylorpub.com/About/index.aspx

  9. codeman38 said,

    June 2, 2008 @ 7:48 pm

    Actually, the spellchecker did 'correct' a first name: Ippolito's first name is actually Alessandra, not Alexandria.

  10. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    June 2, 2008 @ 8:33 pm

    codeman38: Thanks for catching my own miscorrection of "Alessandra." I've edited the post accordingly.

    James C: I'm perfectly fine with Cupertinoize, on the model of ghettoize and heroize. But perhaps a hyphen before -ize is in order, just in case anyone is tempted to pronounce it like Slade/Quiet Riot's "Cum on Feel the Noize."

  11. Grant Hutchins said,

    June 2, 2008 @ 10:57 pm

    At my alma mater, Olin College, each student got a personalized letter in their mailbox at the beginning of my freshman year.

    But for two students, the name on the letter was particularly strange: One with the surname of Chambers got one addressed to "Chaboxers", and another with the given name of Kimberly was addressed as "Kiboxerly".

    It turned out that the messages had originally been addressed to mailboxes like so "MB 123", but that someone had decided to do a find/replace to "BOX 123"

    Needless to say, those two earned new nicknames that day.

  12. Coby Lubliner said,

    June 2, 2008 @ 11:18 pm

    Ben: Thank you for using the canonical "miscorrection" rather than the Safireism "incorrection" that has been adopted by some of your Language Log colleagues.

  13. Mike said,

    June 3, 2008 @ 4:33 am

    The MS spellchecker doesn't autocorrect capitalized words so it must have been a lazy/mischievous editor….

  14. outeast said,

    June 3, 2008 @ 9:42 am

    The MS spellchecker doesn't autocorrect capitalized words so it must have been a lazy/mischievous editor….

    My money's on mischievous. Who could look at 'max Supernova' and not hit 'accept'?

  15. Mark Liberman said,

    June 3, 2008 @ 10:12 am

    The culprit wasn't MS Word, or any other product from Redmond. The yearbook was produced by Taylor, according to the news reports, and a bit of Google search finds a Taylor web page that tells us:

    In 1983, Taylor introduced the first yearbook creation software with its unique Vision Series. Today, that software has matured substantially. Taylor’s Vision Series is a group of desktop publishing programs that are yearbook-specific and easy to use. The Vision Series can be mastered quickly with little or no technical knowledge. They come with fonts, page design tools, built-in text editing and special indexing features.

    It's not clear whether the spellchecker involved was configured to make automatic corrections or to require editorial assent;and if autocorrect was on, who was responsible for the configuration; or if not, who assented to the changes. So some of the blame may belong to bad software design, and some to careless or malicious student editors or faculty advisors. But none of the blame belongs to Microsoft, this time.

  16. Sili said,

    June 3, 2008 @ 4:34 pm

    Off topic (as usually), but I'm not alright with "ghetto-ise". I can see that it fits the model of "urbanise", but "ghettoise" just sounds wrong to me. In my native Danish, too.

    Is this just a stupid idiosyncracy of the mendacious windbaggy kind or does it have some sorta grounding in inate phonotactics?

  17. John McIntyre said,

    June 3, 2008 @ 10:28 pm

    It was carelessness in manipulating the spell-check in Microsoft Word that led to a reference to Kunta Kinte in The Baltimore Sun as Chunter Knit.

  18. R. Unkefer said,

    June 3, 2008 @ 10:32 pm

    Back in the day (early 80s) when we used Wordstar, we were checking a press release we had written for an appearance by computer scientist Edsgar Djikstra. The computer suggested his last name should be "jockstrap". Looks like we haven't come very far from the Wordstar days. And this was only a few miles from Cupertino…

  19. john riemann soong said,

    June 3, 2008 @ 11:47 pm

    For some reason "ghetto up" seems like a crazily plausible verb to me. "Failure to Fix Broken Windows will ghetto up the place."

  20. Mateo Crawford said,

    June 4, 2008 @ 11:23 am

    Don't look at this as a tragedy. Look at it as an opportunity. To start a superhero team.

  21. Craig Daniel said,

    June 5, 2008 @ 12:34 am

    I can't help but imagining Max as being cool enough that unless he's graduating (and thus the sentimental value of the book is significantly elevated, making this actually matter) he should enjoy being given such a kick-ass typo.

    I mean, Alexandria Impolite and Kathy Airbag, sure, they have reason to be pissed. But who *wouldn't* want to be named Max Supernova?

  22. Alice P. Radin said,

    June 5, 2008 @ 10:14 am

    While I am grateful to spellchecker for catching my personal, repeated, typos ["hte" "transalte" "langugae" being the most common] I admit to running it on my classical writings mostly for the amusement factor of the suggested corrections. [Yes, I usually end up adding the recurring names to my spellcheck dictionary, but some of the suggestions are too wonderful to lose]. A few favorites: "Annelid" for "Aeneid" [we always *knew* Aeneas was a worm], a choice of "Hasidic" or "Hassidic" for "Hesiodic" and "Parsnips" [among other possibilities] for "Pausanias." And it's not just proper nouns: "cookery" or "kilometric" [and others] for "colometry." I supoose if anyone wanted to kill some time, merely typing in a list of names from, say, a mythological reference work…but of course I am not suggesting any such thing.

  23. Melissa Bollbach said,

    June 8, 2008 @ 11:57 pm

    I was Melissa Blotch on a high school memo about which cheerleaders were providing directions around the school on parents' night. Not as bad as Kathy Airbag, but it seems ambiguously derogatory just the same. Honestly, who lets a spellchecker correct an entire document without review? Even if you didn't expect it to check proper names, would you trust it to pick the right word for every mistake?

    I would think the yearbook editors had to give final approval to the proofs of each page before it was printed, but I guess it's possible Taylor somehow managed to re-spellcheck the file afterwards.

  24. Marty Snow said,

    June 9, 2008 @ 4:11 pm

    I did a grad-school stint as a proofreader at a typesetter's awhile back, way before automated spellchecking, and we antediluvians had an abundance of felicitous mishaps. One local advertiser objected to our dictionary-sanctioned word break "anal/ize," which we agreeably emended to "ana/lyze." My favorite typo of all time, though, was in a history textbook, in which a pamphleteer's "incendiary squibs" got switched to "incendiary squids."

    I was SO tempted to let it stand!!! Duck!

  25. Eats Wombats said,

    July 16, 2008 @ 1:05 pm

    Courtney reminds me: I know of a Mr.Salmon who named his first born Courtney.

    Courtney Salmon.

    Get it? Sad but true. The guy named Sue thought HE had problems.

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