What is the Cupertino Effect?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesOn any given day, we have all experienced the Cupertino Effect. It’s just one of those annoyances of everyday life in the modern world, like Spam email and robocall voicemails. Imagine a team member typing what should be a rather innocuous email, like: “I am looking for full cooperation from all the members of the team.” He hits send, and then suddenly, his eye catches a word that he didn’t intend to use. The actual message reads: ” I am looking for full copulation from all the members of the team.” His face turns red with embarrassment and anger; he shouts, “Damn you, Autocorrect!” Within seconds he frantically types out a new message, attempting to salvage the situation: “LOL. DYAC! The word is COOPERATION. I am looking for full cooperation.” You have just witnessed the Cupertino Effect — when a spellcheck program automatically “corrects” your spelling using an unintended word. This is also referred to as an “autocorrect fail.” The substituted word is known as a “Cupertino.”

The term was coined in 2013 by Tom Chatfield, a British tech philosopher and author of Netymology: From Apps to Zombies. Chatfield chose that name because an early spellchecker he used had the tendency to substitute “Cupertino” when he mistyped “cooperation.” As you may know, Cupertino [California] is the location of Apple’s headquarters. These spellcheckers errors are the result of programming idiosyncrasies. That is to say that for every spellchecker, a Cupertino occurs only when a particular typo is made or the spellchecker makes an incorrect assumption based on contextual words. Chatfield cited two other examples of his spellchecker’s autocorrect tendencies: “Freud” was changed into “fraud” and “soonish” was changed into “Zionism.”

Mark Liberman and Geoffrey Pullum, founders of The Language Log and the spin-off book, Far From the Madding Gerund and Other Dispatches from the Language Log (2006), featured some notable Cupertinos under the heading “Artifacts of the Spellchecker Age.” Here are a few eyebrow-raising examples:

An article from The New York Times (October 26, 2005) misstated the name of University of Alabama’s linebacker DeMeco Ryans as Demerol Ryans.

Also in The New York Times, a review of The Colbert Report (Oct 25, 2005) states that Colbert’s word of the day was “Trustiness.” The actual word was “Truthiness.” Colbert coined this word which means “the quality of seeming to be true, even though it is not necessarily true.”

A menu from an upscale San Francisco restaurant listed a menu item as “warmed spring salad greens with prostitutes” as opposed to “… greens with prosciutto.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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Read related posts: What is a Mondegreen?
There’s A Word for That: Mumpsimus
What is a Malaphor?

For further reading: Netymology: From Apps to Zombies, Tom Chatfield, 2013
Far From the Madding Gerund and Other Dispatches from the Language Log, Mark Liberman and Geoffrey Pullum, 2006 

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