The Cupertino Effect: 11 Spell Check Errors That Made It to Press

iStock.com/1001Love
iStock.com/1001Love

Typos and other errors have always managed to find their way into print, even in the most august of publications. Take, for example, the case of the Wicked Bible, which accidentally omitted the not in "Thou shall not commit adultery" in 1631. But the dawn of word processing and its attendant spell check programs introduced a new kind of error, now sometimes known as a Cupertino. It's a sort of older cousin of the "Damn You, Autocorrect" error that infects even professionally edited text. It was named by workers for the European Union who noticed that the word cooperation often showed up in finished documents as Cupertino, the name of a city in California. Ben Zimmer tracked Cupertinos on Language Log for years. Here are some good ones.

1. Cooperation/Cupertino

"Co-ordination with the World Bank Transport and Trade Facilitation Programme for South East Europe will be particularly important in the area of trade facilitation and shall be conducted through regular review mechanisms and direct Cupertino."

From a European Agency for Reconstruction report, described here.

2. Cooperation/Copulation

"The Heads of State and Government congratulated SATCC for the crucial role it plays in strengthening copulation and accelerating the implementation of regional programmes in this strategic sector."

From a Southern African Development Community communiqué, described here.

3. Highfalutin/High Flatulent

"Clips of former President Bill Clinton and former candidate John Edwards are also used. 'Rhetoric is not enough. High flatulent language is not enough,' says Edwards from a debate appearance."

From a Wall Street Journal Blog, described here.

4. DeMeco Ryans/Demerol

Names are particularly susceptible to the Cupertino effect.

"Because of an editing error, a sports article in some copies on Sunday about the University of Alabama's 6-3 football victory over the University of Tennessee misstated the given name of a linebacker who is a leader of the Alabama defense. He is DeMeco Ryans, not Demerol."

From a correction in The New York Times, described here.

5. Muttahida Quami/Muttonhead Quail

"The opposition blames the government and the pro-government Muttonhead Quail Movement (MQM), which runs Karachi, for the violence."

From Reuters.

6. Refudiate/Repudiate

Cupertinos also result from the correction of errors you don't want corrected.

"The fact that she uses a hand-held device to write her Twitter messages without checking by her staff has led to errors before, such as calling on moderate Muslims to 'repudiate' plans for a mosque near ground zero in New York."

From the Telegraph, described on Language Log here. As Zimmer notes, repudiate is the correct word; Palin had actually used refudiate.

7. Truthiness/Trustiness

"On his regular feature 'The Word,' Mr. Colbert routinely mocks the kind of anti-intellectual populism perfected by Fox News. 'Trustiness' was his word of the day, he told viewers with a poker face, sneering at the 'wordanistas over at Webster's' who might refute its existence. 'I don't trust books,' he explained. 'They're all fact and no heart.'"

From The New York Times, described here. The word Colbert used was Truthiness.

8. Sua Sponte/Sea Sponge

Foreign words are also common victims of Cupertino—in this case, Sua Sponte, the Latin legal term for "of one's own accord."

"An appropriate instruction limiting the judge's criminal liability in such a prosecution must be given sea sponge explaining that certain acts or omissions by themselves are not sufficient to support a conviction."

From a legal brief in a San Francisco appeals court, described here.

9. Doro Wot, Awaze Tibs/Door Wot, Aware Ties

"An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the Ethiopian dish doro wot as door wot. Additionally, the article referred incorrectly to awaze tibs as aware ties."

From a correction in The New York Times, described here.

10. Socialite/Socialist

Here's one noted on Regret The Error, a good source for Cupertino hunters.

"An early version of an Associated Press story about the David Petraeus resignation and ensuing scandal mistakenly referred to Jill Kelley as a 'socialist' rather than a socialite."

11. Prosciutto/Prostitute

One of those examples that seems too good to be real, this was posted on an Italian food forum in 2000, and it's still there.

"Crumble bread sticks into a mixing bowl. Cover with warm water. Let soak for 2 to 3 minutes or until soft. Drain. Stir in prostitute, provolone, pine nuts, 1/4 cup oil, parsley, salt, and pepper. Set aside." Yum!

From a recipe for Braciola, described here.

A version of this article first ran in 2013.

11 Words That Started Out As Spelling Mistakes

A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
iStock.com/Dirima

The word irregardless might not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying that if you were to use it in a sentence, you’d be perfectly understood—and that’s more than enough evidence for it to have been accepted into many dictionaries (albeit flagged as non-standard or informal), including Oxford Dictionaries, Merriam-Webster, and even the hallowed Oxford English Dictionary, which has so far been able to trace it back as far as 1912. So despite it having its origins in an error, and irregardless of what you might think of it, there’s no denying irregardless is indeed a word—and it’s by no means alone.

1. Expediate

Meaning “to hasten” or “to complete something promptly,” the verb expediate is thought to have been invented by accident in the early 1600s when the adjective form of expedite, meaning “ready for action” or “alert,” was misspelled in an essay by the English politician Sir Edwin Sandys (it was later corrected).

2. Culprit

There are several different accounts of the origin of culprit, but all of them seem to agree that the word was born out of a mistake. Back when French was still the language of the law in England in the Middle Ages (a hangover from the days of the Norman Conquest), the phrase Culpable, prest d’averrer nostre bille—literally “guilty, ready to prove our case”—was apparently the stock reply given by the Clerk of the Crown whenever a defendant gave a plea of not guilty. In the court records, this fairly long-winded phrase was often abbreviated just to cul. prit., and, as the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “by a fortuitous or ignorant running together of the two,” the word culprit was born.

3. Despatch

Despatch is a chiefly British English variant of dispatch, often used only in formal contexts like the name of the political despatch box in the House of Commons. The e spelling apparently began as a phonetic variation of the original I spelling, but after Samuel Johnson included it in his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, its use was legitimized and thrived in the 19th century. Because Johnson himself preferred the I spelling in his own writings, however, it's supposed that he included the e spelling by mistake and inadvertently popularized the error.

4. Nickname

Nicknames were originally called eke names, with the verb eke used here in the sense of “to make longer” or “to provide an addition.” Sometime in the 13th century, however, “an eke-name” was mistakenly interpreted as “a neke-name,” and the N permanently jumped across from the indefinite article an to the verb eke. The same error—known linguistically as “rebracketing” or “junctural metanalysis”—is responsible for nadders, numpires, and naprons all losing their initial Ns in the Middle English period.

5. Ammunition

Ammunition derives from a faulty division of the French la munition, which was incorrectly misheard as l'amonition by French soldiers in the Middle Ages, and it was this mistaken form that was borrowed into English in the 1600s.

6. Scandinavia

Scandinavia was originally called Scadinavia, without the first N, and is thought to take its name from an island, perhaps now part of the Swedish mainland, called Scadia. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the extra N was added in error by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, and has remained in place ever since.

7. Syllabus

If all had gone to plan in the history of the word syllabus, those two Ls should really be Ts: Syllabus was coined as a Latin misreading of an Ancient Greek word, sittybos, meaning “a table of contents.”

8. Sneeze

Oddly, sneeze was spelled with an F and not an S, fneze, in Middle English, which gives weight to the theory that it was probably originally coined onomatopoeically. At least one explanation of why the letter changed suggests that this F inadvertently became an S sometime in the 15th century due to continual misreadings of the long lowercase f as the old-fashioned long S character, ſ.

9. Ptarmigan

The ptarmigan is a bird of the grouse family, found in mountainous and high-latitude environments. Its bizarre name with its initial silent P is something of a mystery, as the original Scots word from which it derives, tarmachan, shows no evidence of it and there’s little reason why one should ever have to have been added to it—except, of course, if it were a mistake. The P spelling first emerged in the late 1600s, and is thought to have been a mistaken or misguided attempt to ally the name to the Greek word for a wing, pteron, and eventually this unusual P spelling replaced the original one.

10. Sherry

Sherry takes its name from the southern Spanish port of Xeres (now Jerez de la Frontera in Cádiz) and was originally known as vino de Xeres, or “wine of Xeres.” This name then morphed into sherris when sherry first began to be talked about in English in the early 17th century, but because of that final S, it didn’t take long for that to be misinterpreted as a plural. Ultimately, a mistaken singular form, sherry, emerged entirely by mistake in the early 1600s.

11. Pea

Another word that developed from a plural-that-actually-wasn’t is pea. One pea was known as a pease in Middle English, but because of that final “s” sound, pease was quickly misinterpreted as a plural, giving rise to a misguided singular form, pea, in the 17th century. The actual plural of pease in Middle English, incidentally, was pesen.

This list first ran in 2016.

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