Otto korect...

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I was just reading an article in the NYTimes about the furor in the blogosphere over "autocorrected" words. You know what I mean. You type a word in your Twitter post, and your smartphone changes it to something out of left field:

  • "I'm going to the store to get pregnant." "Pringles!! I mean Pringles!!"
  • "My animals ate my kids." "ARE!!"
  • "I woke up with a nasty clown this morning." "Cold! A nasty cold!"

Some of these autocorrections can indeed become quite humorous, and some outright embarrassing. The gaffes created by autocorrect have now reached such proportions that they have their own Web sites, such as http://www.damnyouautocorrect.com/.

There is a simple reason why autocorrect is getting so many complaints today: People can't spell! There are many reasons why spelling mistakes abound: First, people just may not know the correct spelling. Second, they make up words. My mom is a wiz at that, but somehow we always understand what she means. And I must give a nod to the more than likely scenario of the typographical error or typo. One thing people need to remember: Autocorrect does not correct properly spelled words that it finds in its dictionary. So if you get an autocorrected fubar word in your text in place of what should be a common word, chances are quite high that the reason it's there is that you messed up.

An example in the article quotes author Stephen Fry: Just typed ‘better than hanging around the house rating bisexuals' to a friend. Thanks, autocorrect. Meant ‘eating biscuits.' More than likely Mr. Fry typed "rating bisxuits." Look at your keyboard: 'r' is right next to 'e' and likewise, and 'x' is next to 'c'. A couple of big clumsy fingers could easily hit the wrong keys on those tiny keypads. I've done it on full size keyboards! As "rating" is a valid word, autocorrect let it slide.

However, "bisxuits" isn't (at least, not in my dictionary). So how did that become bisexuals? One of the most common algorithms used for correcting spellings is based on pronunciation. The correct assumption is that people will spell a word they don't know phonetically, or as it sounds. "B-i-s-x-u..." Yep, that's a +60% phonetic match to bisexual, enough for autocorrect to do its job.

So my recommendation, if you can't spell worth a penny, keep making typographical errors, or use a number of words not in the common dictionary (especially proper names or engineering terms), Turn Your Autocorrect OFF! Then the mistakes you make will truly be your own.

(**Ponders whether Mr. Fry actually misspelled 'rating...'**)

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