U.S. sprinter undergoes search-and-replace

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As has already been the subject of much blogospheric mirth, news about sprinter Tyson Gay's record time in the U.S. Olympic track and field trials was reported in peculiar fashion by the American Family Association's OneNewsNow site. Here's a screenshot from BoingBoing:

And here's one from Outsports showing a series of Google News headlines:

Regret The Error picks its favorite quote:

Asked how he felt, Homosexual said: ‘A little fatigued.’

The American Family Association is a conservative Christian group chaired by Donald Wildmon, dedicated in part to combating the "homosexual agenda." This fight apparently includes changing all instances of gay in its online news outlet to homosexual. Even though the Tyson Gay article has been corrected, Right Wing Watch notes that the OneNewsNow archive still has an article referring to basketball player Rudy Gay as "Rudy Homosexual."

It's a bit ironic that a right-wing news site was the perpetrator of an exuberant search-and-replace, since this phenomenon is typically associated with journalistic PC-ism: everyone seems to know about the apocryphal case of a newspaper changing "back in the black" to "back in the African American." As I discussed in the post "Incorrections in the newsroom: Cupertino and beyond" last February, that all goes back to a practical joke at the Fresno Bee in 1990. In the February post I reproduce some real cases of search-and-replace run rampant, including the unfortunate Reuters report stating that "Queen Elizabeth has 10 times the lifespan of workers and lays up to 2,000 eggs a day."

These search-and-replace goofs are cousins to Cupertinos, since they don't actually involve spellcheckers. But Cupertino-style miscorrections continue to make the news. In February I mentioned that Microsoft was undertaking damage control for an early release of Office 2007 that suggested Osama as a spellchecker substitution for Obama. This was fixed in a downloadable update to the Office software, but Windows Live Hotmail is apparently still using an old word list with Osama suggested for Obama. This led a recent contributor to The Huffington Post to wonder ominously, "Is Hotmail Contributing To Obama-Muslim Smear Campaign?" In a highly charged election year, even word processing algorithms can get politicized.


  1. Bill Poser said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 2:37 am

    I look forward to reading about Gay/Homosexual's libel suit against the American Family Association. Just imagine how they will squirm deciding whether to offer as a defense the claim that calling someone a homosexual is not defamatory!

  2. brdo said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 5:01 am

    The Saudi Gazette of Jeddah replaces offensive words in wire service copy and crossword puzzles – "pork" becomes "meat" and "beer" becomes "beverage." The puzzles more challenging that way, but sometimes it takes a while to figure out the meaning – like when an article about a successful rock band reported that they got their start "playing at weddings and restaurant mitzvahs."

  3. Martyn Cornell said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 5:25 am

    There's a journalist in the UK called Gay Search, and I also know of someone else in the UK called Gay Mann. Let's hope neither comes to the attention of the American Family Association.

  4. Peter Corbett said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 6:19 am

    This isn't a person, I'll admit, but there's also Gay Street in Columbus, OH.

  5. ajay said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 6:30 am

    The Saudi Gazette of Jeddah won't mention the word "pork" but it will mention the word "mitzvah"? I find that unlikely.

  6. Doc Rock said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 7:15 am

    Gay Talese is an author who wrote books and articles for the New York Times. There is also the Henry Gay Automotive Group in Laurel, Maryland, inter alia. I wonder if one of these days there could be an interesting search-and-replace lawsuit for defamation?

  7. john riemann soong said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 8:12 am

    "The Saudi Gazette of Jeddah won't mention the word "pork" but it will mention the word "mitzvah"? I find that unlikely."

    Why? Mitzvah probably has some Arabic cognates floating about…

  8. Bobbie said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 8:48 am

    Sorry, but after using the Reverse-O-Meter it should have read: Asked how he felt, Homosexual said, "A little fagged."

  9. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 9:34 am

    A few years ago, the National Football League refused to sell jerseys with the player name "GAY" on the back. Some New England Patriots fans were upset, because their team had a player named Randall Gay. The NFL finally withdrew the ban.

  10. Emily said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 10:31 am

    I have personally witnessed the "Obama/Osama" spellcheck phenomenon, about two years ago.

    Imagine if Focus on the Family were to get their hands on the Flintstones theme song: "We'll have a homosexual old time!"

  11. Emily said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 10:31 am

    Should have been "Imagine if the American Family Association…"

  12. Philip said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 12:27 pm

    Check out the text: "His wind-aided 9.85 seconds was a fairly cut-and-dry performance . . . ."

  13. Meesher said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 1:22 pm

    Does that count as character donkeydonkeyination?

  14. Bunny Mellon said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 1:44 pm

    In the seventies Tony Blair had a girlfriend called Gay Bourne.

  15. Mark Liberman said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 1:45 pm

    In the comments at Ann Althouse's blog, Chip Ahoy wrote:

    Did you know American Family Association hired me to help edit history? Well they did!

    I'm particularly pleased with font selection, adaption, bendage and fading. All that requires teh mad skillz.

  16. George Amis said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

    Long before there were programs of this sort (or personal computers, for that matter), we used to play a game involving an imaginary erratum slip which read "For 'X', read 'Y' throughout." A favorite was "for 'serf', read 'surf' throughout." But one of the most productive was specific to Shakespeare's Macbeth: "for 'dagger[s]', read 'doggie[s]' throughout, which produces such wonders as "infirm of purpose, give me the doggies!" and "is this a doggie that I see before me. . .".

  17. Lugubert said,

    July 2, 2008 @ 5:34 pm

    My favourite Evil Filter (and on a languages board, no less) objected to Rembrandt's Nightwatch, making it the Nigh****ch. And we couldn't refer to Alfred Hitchcock. Meet Alfred Hitchrooster.

  18. Cantabridgian David said,

    July 2, 2008 @ 10:20 pm

    I am reminded of 1974, when "Gay Community News" (the weekly paper in Boston) published a community guide, "A Gay Person's Guide to New England". Ads marketing the Guide were rejected by "After Dark" magazine (of all places) because they refused to include the word "Gay", so our ad writer had to cleverly indicate the contents of the Guide without using "Gay"; thus he used multiple phrases such as "Camping in New England?". Most of our respondees knew what they were ordering, but one bewildered man in Iowa returned his copy, upset that our guide had no info about places where he could pitch a tent, build a fire and take canoe rides.

  19. Orla said,

    July 4, 2008 @ 9:22 am

    Mmm… yes, gotta love the auto-substitutions. I could always tell when someone at one company I worked for was using auto-spellcheck in Word/Outlook because my name would always come up in their documents as "Oral Hooligan". Very evocative, not altogether accurate. Thank you Microsoft.

  20. Debby said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 11:26 am

    I was attending a tertiary institution in 2002, using Microsoft Word for the first time in years, and was horrified to discover that it would not accept the word 'fora' (plural of forum) but would insist on changing it to "for a". So ignorance is perpetuated!
    New Scientist occasionally makes reference to such things as the United Nations General Buttembly. I assume this is American mealy-mouthedness, as anywhere else, an ass is a donkey and the word that's unacceptable is "arse". It's an advantage to be British in New Zealand sometimes, as nannyware disallows "toilet" or "ass" but is oblivious to "bollocks", and the like. (For those who don't know, New Zealand is culturally American).

  21. Keith said,

    May 19, 2012 @ 4:47 pm

    FrameMaker desktop publishing software contained a bit of marketing humor in its spell-checker, which offered to replace "Interleaf" (name of its competitor) with "FrameMaker".

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