Beowulf Burlington forever

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Six of us — three philosophers, two linguists, and a mathematician — were having dinner the Café Noir in Providence last Thursday night, and when three of us decided on the excellent boeuf bourguignon, someone at the table told a story of a colleague who tried to include the phrase boeuf bourguignon in a word-processed file and found that the spell-checker recommended correcting the spelling to Beowulf Burlington.

We all giggled happily, and referred to the dish as Beowulf Burlington for the rest of the evening, but later (cursed as I am with the habits of a scholar) I checked with Microsoft Word on a Mac, and it proposes no such thing (though it does suggest, in a rather desperate and flailing list, correcting boeuf to one of {beau, beef, beefs, beefy, bogus, bough, bout, pouf}; pouf bourguignon, anyone?). Google doesn't offer the alleged correction either, of course (instead there are hundreds of mentions of the beef dish in question in recipes and menus and reviews).

I sometimes wonder if we aren't doomed to a future of suspiciously implausible and uncheckable cupertino effect stories forever — an endless series of newly invented spell-checking chestnuts, false but enjoyed too much to be checked up on or rejected, like Eskimo words for snow, or the old story about the preposition-stranding correction that Churchill almost certainly never made.


  1. Randy Hudson said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 10:10 am

    These cupertinos are inherently hard to check, depending on which software and dictionary might have been involved. Pages and TextEdit on my MacBook have no trouble with the dish, though they offer both 'Boeuf' and 'Beowulf' for 'Beouf'. These tools have improved drastically in the last decade, and if some did indeed get that correction suggestion years and years ago, it's quite possible for its glory to live on.

  2. Nick said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 10:29 am

    You also don't know that the person knew how to actually spell it correctly. If they completely butchered the spelling, then it's possible for the spell checker to have suggested Beowolf Burlington, even if the actual spelling would not have come up with that.

  3. Ian Preston said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 11:45 am

    I find that Word does offer Beowulf among the suggestions given for Boeuf with an initial capital. I can't get Burlington without misspelling as something like Bourlignon though.

  4. Craig said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 12:53 pm

    If your dinner companion had attempted the incorrect spelling "Beouf Burgingon" with that capitalization, then MS Word 2003 SP3 suggests Beau, Beowulf, Beef, Beaux, and Beaus for the first word in that order and Burlington, Burgin on, Bourguignon, and Barrington for the second.

    The Firefox 3 spell checker offers for the same pair of words: Beowulf, Befoul, Becloud, and Beaufort, and Burlington, Burgoyne, Burgeon, and Burgundian.

    The Firefox 3 spell checker also doesn't recognize the proper spelling of "Bourguignon", offering instead Bourgeoisie, Bourgeois, Bournemouth, and Luxembourgian.

  5. Sili said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

    "Boer Bourgeoisie" is the suggestion of Opera 10.10.

    Boeing, bogus, bonus and bourgeois, Bournemouth, Luxembourgian are next in line.

  6. Dan T. said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 1:19 pm

    If the original speaker didn't actually specify the brand of the spell-checker that provided the suggestion, let along the specific version, the statement is unfalsifiable.

  7. ShadowFox said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

    Well, I just check one of the spellcheckers (the one that insidiously resides in Windows and underlines all your "mistakes" in red) and came up with the following lists.

    For boeuf:


    For bourguignon:


    Clearly no Boewulf Burlington, but Boethius Luxembourgian is just as good. Checking in Google Chrome, all the options are the same, except "bolus" replaces Boethius.

  8. Sid Smith said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 2:47 pm

    Doubtless everyone else already knows this, but I was certainly surprised that MS Word is too prim to have 'idiot' and 'cretin' in its thesaurus. 'Buffoon' is covered, tho.

  9. jeffrey said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 3:23 pm

    Six of us — three philosophers, two linguists, and a mathematician — were having dinner the Café Noir in Providence on Friday night…

    …darn, I thought this was the beginning of a joke of this type:

  10. Brian said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 4:58 pm

    "Bolus Luxembourgian" is a very different sort of humor.

  11. Private Zydeco said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 10:35 pm

    Spell checker brooks no references to inhumane dining.

  12. Ken Grabach said,

    April 12, 2010 @ 11:21 am

    My word, is this post suggesting the existence of cupertino snow clones?
    Cupertino crash blossoms? Cupertino mashups?

  13. Stephen Jones said,

    April 12, 2010 @ 4:08 pm

    Well, I just check one of the spellcheckers (the one that insidiously resides in Windows and underlines all your "mistakes" in red) and came up with the following lists

    I've never heard of such a spell checker. I presume you are referring to the one that comes with Firefox.

  14. gst said,

    April 14, 2010 @ 4:00 pm

    I can only get 'Beowulf Burlington' as the first suggestion if I egregiously misspell said dish 'beouwf burgingyon.'

  15. Ian said,

    May 5, 2010 @ 8:05 am

    The existence of custom dictionaries means that it's difficult to falsify cupertino stories even if the precise spellchecker is identified. Perhaps that's where this colleague got those suggestions.

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