Cupertino of the week

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Noted by John McIntyre, from "Eastern University demolishes nearly century-old log cabin", The Daily Local News (Chester County, PA), 12/26/2009:

Indeed, the top suggestion for the string "incect" from Word 2007's spelling correction system is (plausibly enough) "incest".  Apparently Sam Strike (or his editor, if any) is one of those people who unwisely allows spelling correction to run without human supervision.


  1. James said,

    December 28, 2009 @ 8:26 pm

    Is there some reason to believe this is a Cupertino instead of an ordinary error? It seems plausible that "incest-infested" was the initial erroneously-typed string, which won't normally trigger any automatic spelling correction and is easily overlooked by humans. Still funny, though.

    [(myl) You might be right. I assumed that a single-key anticipation (especially when the pronunciation would be the same) is more likely than a two-key non-contiguous swap. I guess it's even possible that some people spell "insect" on purpose as "incect". But I don't have any real basis for choosing among these and other alternatives, it's true. No doubt someone has an actual stochastic model of typing that would tell us how likely these various errors are, but I don't. ]

  2. Chris said,

    December 28, 2009 @ 9:25 pm

    The letters "c" and "s" are reasonably close to each other on a standard QWERTY keyboard and the lexical items are clearly in each others' neighborhoods, so human error is quite possible. Regardless, what happened to the frikkin fact checker?

  3. Acilius said,

    December 28, 2009 @ 10:25 pm

    I certainly hope it is an error. Insect-infestation would likely be a less serious problem than would incest-infestation.

  4. Kragen Javier Sitaker said,

    December 29, 2009 @ 3:02 am

    I wonder why Word 2007 chooses that? Aside from the point in the reply to the first comment, that "incect" is pronounced the same as "insect" and differently from "incest", the word "insect" is more common: 756 occurrences of "insect" and 1367 of "insects" in the British National Corpus, compared to only 305 of "incest" (and, suspiciously, fewer than five occurrences of "incests"). Maybe somebody broke a tie with alphabetical order?

    [(myl) I don't know — but the spell-checker in Open Office 3.1 makes the same call.]

  5. Faldone said,

    December 29, 2009 @ 7:41 am


    My Firefox spell check gives me, in order, insect, infect, incest, and incept.

  6. Army1987 said,

    December 29, 2009 @ 10:05 am

    that's nothing, most implementations of T9 input system for cell phones give *really* ridiculous orderings for the possibilities, at least in Italian.

  7. Karl Narveson said,

    December 29, 2009 @ 4:25 pm

    Was no one else bothered by the adjective phrase "nearly century-old", with its constituent structure [ [ nearly century ] -old ] so obviously at variance with the punctuation, to say nothing of the normal constraints on modifiers of pre-head attributive adjectives?

    An automated grammar checker, if such existed, would have proposed

    A multi-roomed log cabin, nearly a century old and one of the first buildings constructed on the estate that now houses Eastern University, …

    although any grammar-checking program powerful enough to do what I propose should not be allowed to run without human supervision.

  8. h.s. gudnason said,

    December 29, 2009 @ 6:15 pm

    A.S. Byatt got there first!

  9. codeman38 said,

    December 29, 2009 @ 6:49 pm

    @Army1987: I had a T9 phone a while back, before I got one with a QWERTY keyboard. It believed that "Kpngfs" was a far more reasonable combination of letters in English than "Kroger" (the name of a US grocery store chain).

  10. Forrest said,

    December 29, 2009 @ 8:46 pm

    Now, if a house could be incest-infected, that would be a pretty good reason to tear it down, regardless of its age. Somehow a typo or inattentive spell check seem more parsimonious, though…

  11. sandy flash said,

    December 29, 2009 @ 9:05 pm

    It was originally "bug-infested" and someone at the paper decided to improve the copy and made a boo-boo.

  12. sandy flash said,

    December 29, 2009 @ 9:18 pm

    Another famous one for the DLN is changing the Kuzo and Gofus Funeral Home of Kennett Square to the Kazoo and Goof Funeral Home.

  13. Matt said,

    December 30, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

    I wonder if Eastern University is a pubic university?

  14. Geoviki said,

    December 30, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

    MYL, you missed Matt's joke there.

    [(myl) Oops. So I did — shows you what terrible proof-reading skills I have!]

  15. Graeme said,

    December 30, 2009 @ 10:21 pm

    I was Cupertino'd recently, writing to a friend to tell them my wife had finally landed a 'tenurable' academic job. My US based spell-checker turned that into 'endurable'. (Revealing signs of AI, given the current working conditions for young academics in Australia).

    Is there some equivalent to Cupertino for the iPhone phenomenon of tiny keyboards? That the vowels 'u', 'i' and 'o' are side-by-side is a real design problem, given how many basic but unrelated words are formed on such vowels: eg as 'hit', 'hot' and 'hut'

  16. Charles Gaulke said,

    December 31, 2009 @ 12:40 am

    @Karl: Surely it can at least equally well be broken down as [nearly [century-old]]. It could almost be called "century-old", but not quite, rather than being a "nearly century" old. That said the hyphen doesn't seem particularly necessary, but it's a minor quibble. I doubt anyone could possibly have trouble parsing it, anyway.

    More on topic, I make non-adjacent letter swapping errors like that at least as often as I just miss a key, but that's anecdotal. I've actually looked for good stochastic data on typing errors in the past, and it actually seems to be in surprisingly short supply.

  17. Charles Gaulke said,

    December 31, 2009 @ 12:42 am

    Though actually I did have a split-second's pause realizing I shouldn't distribute "nearly" to "multi-room" as well.

  18. Leonardo Boiko said,

    December 31, 2009 @ 11:26 am

    I’ve seen several Brazilian books with the verb “ter” capitalized mid-sentence (like, “Animais vão Ter de sair da reserva”). Apparently this was due to Microsoft Word’s 95/97 auto-correction, which believed the string “ter” was more likely an abbreviation for Tuesday (“terça-feira”) than one of the commonest auxiliary verbs.

    The icing on the cake: weekdays aren’t even capitalized in Portuguese; the auto-correction itself was an inappropriate anglicism.

    (Unfortunately I can’t recall any specific examples right now).

  19. Stephen Jones said,

    January 1, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

    Well, the logs did come from Tennessee, and we all know what they get up to in those parts.

  20. Ginger Yellow said,

    January 4, 2010 @ 10:19 am

    Rich Hall wrote a song about this:

    Insect Boy

    Gather round me people and a story I will tell
    About a tragic superhero whose life's a living hell
    He had big bug eyes, he had a huge thorax,
    he could carry twenty times his own weight on his back
    By day a bug collector, by night the town's protector,
    Insect Boy
    that should have been his name
    He was born to fight terror, but a clerical error
    Confined him to a life of shame

    They called him Incest Boy, they got the spelling wrong
    They called him Incest Boy,
    and sadly from that moment on
    He could summon up the strength
    of a bug who flies and stings
    But first he had to fiddle with his sister

    He can fly like a hornet, he can sting like a wasp
    But he is saddled with a curious dilemma
    Is it really worth the price to battle crime and vice
    If first you have to poke a family member?

    It takes a cousin to get him buzzin'
    It takes an aunt to make him strong like an ant
    But after he's fought evil
    He just curls up like a weevil
    Overcome by guilt that he don't understand

    They called him Incest Boy, his life's a living hell
    They called him Incest Boy, so stay in school kids
    and learn to spell!!
    He's a superhuman bug, he swoops down from above
    He's got a face only a mother could love

  21. Rachael said,

    January 4, 2010 @ 10:31 am

    I agree with James and Chris that it could be an ordinary typo. I often find that I typo "source" for "course" and vice versa – another pair of words where transposing the c and s still makes a valid word.

  22. rachelharr said,

    March 25, 2010 @ 1:07 am

    I think a word is needed for the subset of cupertinos introduced by T9. They feel different to me in that they’re introduced by a different technology with different patterns from those you see with spell check. And they’re a bit more challenging for a user to correct. They drop in automatically as a default, whereas traditional cupertinos usually require acceptance from the user.

    After a bit of searching, I propose bucklame, which is a cupertino for Auckland. It has the handy near-parallelism of being somewhat of a city name, and unlike many/most bucklames, it is not a common word. What fun would it be to call this type of error a book (cool), or duck (fuck), or of (me)? Thoughts?

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