Miscorrecting Palin

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Sarah Palin's Twitter feed continues to attract a mind-boggling amount of international media attention, most recently for the act of "favoriting" a tweet from Ann Coulter, which contained a photograph of a church sign with inflammatory things to say about President Obama. Palin, or whoever runs her Twitter account, subsequently "unfavorited" the tweet, and Palin told ABC News that she had no knowledge of the original favoriting. The Telegraph reported:

The fact that she uses a hand-held device to write her Twitter messages without checking by her staff has led to errors before, such as calling on moderate Muslims to “repudiate” plans for a mosque near ground zero in New York.

…except, as we all know, the word that Palin used was refudiate. Mostly likely what we have here is a Cupertino-style miscorrection, in which a copy editor has allowed a spellchecker to substitute the "correct" word repudiate, thus missing the entire point. (This despite the fact that a sidebar of related articles links to the Telegraph's own recent discussion of Palinesque refudiation.)

On Wonkette, one commenter griped about another editorial liberty taken by the Telegraph, "injecting 'u' into a verbatim written quote." This is the quotation in question:

“I’ve never purposefully 'favourited’ any Tweet,” she wrote in an email to ABC News. “I had to go back to my BlackBerry to even see if such a function was possible. I was travelling to Alaska that day … it was an obvious accidental 'favouriting’.”

Though it's jarring for American readers to see Palin quoted with British spelling, this type of stylistic rejiggering of quotations is hardly unique to the Telegraph. I've run across the same copy-editing policy at The New York Times for my "On Language" columns. The in-house style guide for The Times advises that writers should not "clean up" quotations but adds that "The Times does adjust spelling, punctuation, capitalization and abbreviations within a quotation for consistent style." The Telegraph probably has a similar guideline, though the adjustment of refudiate to repudiate obviously oversteps that line.


  1. GeorgeW said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

    It is hard for me to comment on anything Palin without violating the LL 'be polite' dictum. But, I will admit to kinda liking 'favoriting' (of course with an real American spelling).

  2. Recury said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 4:53 pm

    If Palin had said something about "aluminum", would the Telegraph have changed it to "aluminium"? Or is that different because of the different pronunciations?

  3. John Lawler said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 5:17 pm

    How do native tweeters pronounce "favoriting" in English?
    ['fe:jvɹɨɾɪŋ] is what I'd expect, but I'm not a native.
    Are there actually four syllables?

  4. D. Sky Onosson said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 5:26 pm

    @John Lawler: I don't generally have any vowel between the v and the r, so only three syllables, but otherwise pretty much what you have there. Same goes for plain old favourite – just two syllables.

  5. dw said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

    The Daily Telegraph's orthographic policies are just as insular and reactionary as its political views. For example, it calls the Australian Labor Party the "Labour" party, even though:

    * the party itself spells the name without the "o"
    * the word "labo(u)r" is generally spelled with the "o" in Australian English, just as in British English

    It's no surprise that the irascible and reactionary Simon Heffer is its editor.

  6. dw said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 5:35 pm

    Obviously, in my previous post, "o" should be "u". Aaagh.

  7. dw said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 5:38 pm

    I should add that, to its credit, the New York Times does spell the name of the British Labour party correctly.

  8. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 5:43 pm

    I'm actually surprised that favourite is the preferred UK spelling, since in most other words that are derived from nouns ending in -our this becomes -or- (clamorous, honorary, rancorous).

  9. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 6:11 pm

    Coby Lubliner: Yes, but on the other side we have honourable and favourable. There doesn't seem to be a rigid rule.

  10. groki said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 7:12 pm

    The Telegraph reported: […] “repudiate” […] except, as we all know, the word that Palin used was refudiate.

    probably too clever by at least half, but here's another possibility:

    rather than quote-marks-for-direct-quotation, maybe those were scare quotes.

    that is, perhaps they were, with wink-wink archness, translating what she (should have) said while pointing up her mistake.

  11. Joyce Melton said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 11:32 pm

    Is the American pronunciation of "favorite" regional? I've heard perhaps four distinct pronunciations in common usage and only the rarest of those is three syllable.

  12. Chris said,

    November 6, 2010 @ 9:14 am

    @D Sky
    Disagree. Favourite has a schwa there in BrE (for me at least) and three syllables "fayv-uh-rit".
    Are people saying Americans just say "fayv-rit"? The American accent in my head drags the middle syllable out instead.

  13. Matt McIrvin said,

    November 6, 2010 @ 10:23 am

    In most American accents I've heard, it is "fayv-rit"; the vowel in the middle goes away, it's not drawn out.

  14. Pflaumbaum said,

    November 6, 2010 @ 1:10 pm

    @ Chris –

    It's common enough without the schwa in BrE too, even RP. Depends on the register and emphasis.

  15. John said,

    November 6, 2010 @ 1:26 pm

    Two-syllable word, favorite.

    Incidentally, Palin accidentally favorited several other sites that day.

  16. Lazar said,

    November 6, 2010 @ 2:27 pm

    This miscorrection reminds me of an auto-miscorrection made some years ago by George W. Bush. He was at some light-hearted event where he was poking fun at his tendency toward malapropisms, and he claimed to have coined the word "misunderstanding", when he actually intended to say "misunderestimate". I might go so far as to call it the only known meta-Bushism.

  17. jc said,

    November 6, 2010 @ 11:54 pm

    My usual pronunciation of "favorite" has 3 syllables, but the middle one is just an /r/ vowel. If I had to spell it fonetikly, I'd probably write "fay-vr-rit", with 'r' as both a vowel and consonant. I'm a native of the US West Coast, mostly Seattle, but also a few childhood years in Arizona.

  18. GeorgeW said,

    November 7, 2010 @ 7:09 am

    I think my Floridian (with other influences) idiolect gives two pronunciations of 'favorite.' As a noun, it has 3 syllables, as an adjective 2:

    1. She is my fay-va-rit.
    (with a schwa in the 2nd syllable – dammit, I can't get IPA symbols in the LL form).

    2. She is my fayv-rit singer.

  19. Lazar said,

    November 7, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

    By the way, I'm from central Massachusetts, and I exclusively use the disyllabic pronunciation of "favorite". The other one doesn't exist in my idiolect at all.

  20. Jamie said,

    November 7, 2010 @ 4:43 pm

    John Lawler, I use a /t/ and not an alveolar flap in "favoriting," though the alveolar flap pronunciation sounds reasonable to me. I usually pronounce "favorite" with two syllables, though I sometimes use three if I am especially enthusiastic.

  21. Terry Collmann said,

    November 7, 2010 @ 5:01 pm

    Ben: 'Mostly likely what we have here is a Cupertino-style miscorrection, in which a copy editor's spellchecker has substituted the "correct" word repudiate …' … not likely, I think, because in my experience on national newspapers, "automatic" spellcheckers are never used, precisely because they cause more problems than they solve. The Telegraph uses InCopy as its text editing software, and this does have an automatic spellchecker, but it is set to redline words it thinks are wrong, not automatically correct them. I suspect good old human error here – someone on the sub-editing side had not heard the "refudiate" story and assumed "repudiate" most be the word meant, so went ahead and "corrected" it by hand.

  22. Terry Collmann said,

    November 7, 2010 @ 5:05 pm

    Oh, and yes, spellings of American institutions and in quotes from Americans will always be changed to British spellings in British newspapers: that will include the Defen(s)(c)e Department, Labo(u)r Day and the rest.

  23. Dw said,

    November 7, 2010 @ 9:30 pm

    @Terry Collmann:

    Well, The Guardian does at least spell the name of the Australian Labor Party correctly: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/07/labor-julia-gillard-form-minority-government-australia

  24. Ben Zimmer said,

    November 7, 2010 @ 11:07 pm

    Terry: I didn't mean to imply that this was some sort of auto-correction. "Cupertinos" generally do require a (tired, inattentive) human to select an improper suggestion given by a spellchecker, as we've discussed in the past. See, e.g., Thierry Fontenelle's guest post about the spellchecker in Microsoft Office (which long ago abandoned the AutoReplace function).

    It's possible that the sub-editor made the miscorrection without the help of a spellchecker, of course, but that would require a different kind of inattentiveness (especially since, as I mentioned, The Telegraph had just recently discussed refudiate and linked to the discussion in the article's sidebar).

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