Bandersnatch Cummerbund: not a typo, not a cupertino

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Earlier today, AFP photographer Alex Ogle posted on Twitter what looked like an outrageous typo in a column by Lisa de Moraes of the Washington Post: the name of Benedict Cumberbatch, star of the BBC/PBS show Sherlock, got transmogrified into "Bandersnatch Cummerbund" on second mention.

The shot of the column got plenty of attention when Craig Silverman of Poynter's Regret the Error posted it, speculating that it was the result of a spellcheck error (what we call a cupertino in these parts). The Huffington Post also picked it up, and pretty soon it was getting spread all over Twitter and Facebook.

On Twitter, however, Alex Johnson, a reporter at and ex-Post staffer, told Silverman he was "almost certain" that this was merely a joke by his former colleague de Moraes — along the lines of her nickname for American Idol's Ryan Seacrest, "Seabiscuit." And soon enough, de Moraes cleared up the matter in an update to the online version of the column. It was indeed a gag, and she credited the nickname to a participant in one of her weekly online chats about TV. (She also tipped her hat to the originator of the "frumious Bandersnatch," Lewis Carroll.) Her regular readers probably got the joke without the need for an extra wink, but that was lost on those who merely saw a howler in the pages of a distinguished newspaper.

Moral of the story: before indulging in viral schadenfreude, consider whether the joke might be on you.


  1. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 6:15 pm

    So "Benedict Cumberbatch" was not a mistake?

  2. The Ridger said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 6:25 pm

    It was not a mistake. He has a great name. And "Otters who look like Benedict Cumberbatch" went viral, at least in the UK, back in March.

  3. Nicholas Waller said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

    I wonder how often attempts at gags like this, or quotes of not-as-widely-known-as-they-might-be-these-days phrases such as "curiouser and curiouser", get "corrected" out by subs between the writer and the finished article.

    On de Moraes's main non-language issue, ratings and awards-worthiness: Kenneth Turan, after James Cameron complained about his bashing of Titanic, pointed out that if popularity was all that mattered McDonald's would win all the restaurant gongs.

  4. Tom said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

    It's strange that perfectly intelligent, sensible journalists and others on twitter were so quick to assume some sort of Cupertino error. Cummerbund for Cumberbatch, maybe, but unless the ghost of Edward Lear is now working for Apple, I don't believe autocorrect will ever think you're more likely to mean Bandersnatch than Benedict.

  5. Allison said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 6:57 pm

    If I was Benedict Cumbertbatch or anyone from his PR team, I'd be a bit annoyed by this journalist and her supposed joke. Only a bit though, considering I'd be English and would therefore before be too concerned with politeness.

  6. Adrian Morgan said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 7:14 pm

    I am wondering if it's widely considered normal to say "the X show Y" when X is not responsible for producing Y, but only for broadcasting it in a particular country.

    [(bgz) Changed "PBS" to "BBC/PBS". Chalk it up to Americocentrism.]

  7. AntC said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 7:15 pm

    @Tom: Edward Lear?

    As Ben attributed, 'Bandersnatch' is Lewis Carroll — a far better quality of nonsense.

    Lear would be Banker's Clerk, methinks.

  8. Jeff Carney said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 11:24 pm

    Bandersnatch Cummerbund is now the hero of my next novel, or at least a bit player. Can't resist. I'm feeling way too frumious.

  9. Adam said,

    May 9, 2012 @ 4:02 am

    It seemed odd to me that a spellchecker would include bandersnatch but not Benedict, so I checked in OpenOffice:

    bandersnatch, not listed, suggestions start with bander snatch and bander-snatch;
    benedict, not listed, suggestion is Benedict (fair enough).

    However, the one that Firefox uses has flagged spellchecker, bandersnatch, OpenOffice, bander, bander-snatch, benedict (uncapitalized), and bizarrely Firefox.

  10. Terry Collmann said,

    May 9, 2012 @ 4:37 am

    Alison: "If I was Benedict Cumbertbatch or anyone from his PR team, I'd be a bit annoyed by this journalist and her supposed joke"

    Annoyed? He's frumious. Especially at you calling him "Cumbertbatch".

  11. Dave Clark said,

    May 9, 2012 @ 4:45 am

    Nitpicky, I know, but "Sherlock" is not even a "BBC/PBS show". It was produced by the BBC, full stop (or "period" for American readers…). BC is "star of the BBC show 'Sherlock' recently broadcast by PBS". Mind you, British readers already cringe at seeing a fine drama like 'Sherlock' being described as a "show". Ah, two nations divided by a common language…

  12. Steve F said,

    May 9, 2012 @ 6:30 am

    Cumberbatch was educated at Harrow, one of Britain's poshest Public Schools (that's a private school for non-Brits of course), where over-elaborate jokey nicknames, sometimes referencing classic children's books such as those by Lewis Carroll or A.A. Milne, are very common, so I would guess that he is fairly used to it and not particularly annoyed.
    I think I might have guessed it was a joke if I had seen it in its original context, but of course, seeing it on Language Log I was primed to expect a cupertino.
    And by the way, @ Dave Clark – very nitpicky indeed. 'Show' for TV drama is surely pretty standard in British English. I wouldn't like our American (and other) friends to think we cringe quite that easily.

  13. rootlesscosmo said,

    May 9, 2012 @ 6:45 am

    Cumberbatch is intriguingly close to Comberbacke, the name Coleridge adopted during his brief, impulsive enlistment in the Army.

  14. Nicholas Waller said,

    May 9, 2012 @ 8:03 am

    @ Dave Clark "Ah, two nations divided by a common language…"

    In the original article we see "second [season] of"; presumably Cumbersome Benefit originally said "the second _series_ of 'Downton Abbey'".

  15. Mr Fnortner said,

    May 9, 2012 @ 8:30 am

    And of course, Frumious Bandersnatch sounds like a Dickens character.

  16. threeoutside said,

    May 9, 2012 @ 10:33 am

    Funny. I would like to think that none of the people involved with "Sherlock" are petty enough to take offense at this – after all, there is no such thing as bad publicity, to some.

  17. Mark F. said,

    May 9, 2012 @ 12:43 pm

    I thought "PBS drama" was a synonym for "BBC drama shown in the US".

  18. scav said,

    May 10, 2012 @ 2:49 am

    The only error in the splendid name of Benedict Cumberbatch is the lost opportunity of giving him the middle name "Quentin".

  19. Michael Drake said,

    May 10, 2012 @ 9:02 am

    Life imitates art.

  20. Bob Violence said,

    May 13, 2012 @ 12:39 am

    @Dave Clark: Sherlock is in fact co-produced by PBS, under the name "Masterpiece" (the programming strand used for Sherlock and other British dramas). Here's the press kit from series 1:

    "SHERLOCK is a Hartswood Films production for BBC Wales, co-produced with Masterpiece. Rebecca Eaton is the Executive Producer for Masterpiece."

  21. David S. said,

    May 15, 2012 @ 10:25 am

    "I meant to do that" is an old line. It may be true in this case, but as in most cases, it doesn't mean whatever was done was a wise or healthy thing to do.

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