Thursday, April 24, 2014

BROWN: Autocorrect doesn’t catch stupid

By LINDA BROWN, Hold Me Up a Little Longer, Lord | 11/13/2013

We’ve all made them — those embarrassing spelling and typing errors that sneak into our writing when we hit the wrong key or are momentarily distracted. Thankfully someone took pity on us and invented spell check and autocorrect, which at the very least highlights a misspelled word, giving you the opportunity to change it. In the case of autocorrect, the program just fixes your blunder, and for the most part you’re none the wiser.

These programs don’t come without their own unique set of problems, however. Years ago, newspaper editors were lured into a false sense of security when sold on the new spell check and autocorrect software by the claim they’d never again have to depend on a proofreader. After that, few if any proofreaders were hired or retained on the payroll. The part the software sellers didn’t mention is that writers and reporters very rarely catch their own mistakes; when self-editing, they already know what the story says because they wrote it — therefore they don’t actually read it; they skim it. Few errors are caught by skimming.

We’ve all made them — those embarrassing spelling and typing errors that sneak into our writing when we hit the wrong key or are momentarily distracted. Thankfully someone took pity on us and invented spell check and autocorrect, which at the very least highlights a misspelled word, giving you the opportunity to change it. In the case of autocorrect, the program just fixes your blunder, and for the most part you’re none the wiser.

These programs don’t come without their own unique set of problems, however. Years ago, newspaper editors were lured into a false sense of security when sold on the new spell check and autocorrect software by the claim they’d never again have to depend on a proofreader. After that, few if any proofreaders were hired or retained on the payroll. The part the software sellers didn’t mention is that writers and reporters very rarely catch their own mistakes; when self-editing, they already know what the story says because they wrote it — therefore they don’t actually read it; they skim it. Few errors are caught by skimming.

Many individuals and organizations have had to apologize for the errors of their ways. In fact, there once was a rumor that when Moses first brought the Ten Commandments down from the mountain, the tablets appeared to include a decree against skin lightening creams: “Thou shall not bear false whiteness.”

Some years ago, a weekly newspaper in California accepted an ad from the Sealy Mattress Company using the slogan “Sleeping on a Sealy is like sleeping on a cloud.”

When the ad first appeared it read, “Sleeping on a Sealy is like slipping on a cloud.”

After profuse apologies, the newspaper ran the ad again ... it read, “Sleeping on a Sealy is like sleeping on a clod.”

Meanwhile, in the heart of the country, a Des Moines-area community college’s school handbook had a calendar entry during Black History Month that was supposed to say “Black History Lunch and Learn.” Instead is said, “Black History Linch and Learn.”

A little too close to the word “lynch” for anyone’s comfort, but all it took was one little slip of a finger on the keyboard. Much more difficult to explain was the error in The Pasta Bible (Penguin Books) in 2012 that necessitated the destruction of 7,000 books after publishing a recipe for taleteller with sardines and prosciutto that listed among its ingredients “salt and freshly ground black people.”

The mistake wasn’t caught until a reader sent an email asking if it would be okay to substitute a white person.

And who can forget the most public of public humiliations suffered by the University of Texas at Austin where the 2012 commencement program distributed to students stated that they were graduating from the “Lyndon B. Johnson School of Pubic Affairs.”

Back in 2007, CNN used a graphic during a piece about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. The graphic asked the question, “Where’s Obama?”

Four years later, when bin Laden finally was found, a Fox News affiliate ran a breaking news graphic that said’ “Reports: Obama bin Laden killed!”

The station realized its mistake after dozens of astute callers said, “He isn’t dead. I just saw him on the news taking credit for killing some guy named Osama.”

Offensive, embarrassing and sometimes just plain hysterical, typos for the most part should be avoided, leaving just a nice even million of other things in life that can end up making us look stupid.

Linda Brown is marketing director for The Ottawa Herald. Email her at lbrown@ottawaherald.com

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