May 4th, 2013

Last night, listening to an archived episode of Radiolab, one of my favorite ways to use the internet, I learned about something they were calling “the Cupertino effect”. It was an episode called “Oops”, and the phrase was introduced just after a story about the Unibomber, so I got a little nervous about what “oops” our humble hometown might have inflicted on the world. It turned out to be merely hilarious. According to a man named Ben Zimmer, “the Cupertino effect” refers to an early version of spell check that only accepted the word co-operate spelled like that, with a hyphen. Do you see where this is going? Because this early spell check didn’t understand that cooperation is also possible without a hyphen, it told those hyphen-less peace-makers that the word the were looking for was spelled “cupertino”.

Who, you might be wondering, would allow themselves to be corrected in this way? Well, let’s just say that when writing in another language, sometimes the tools the computer gives you are life savers and sometimes they lead you astray, as I and some of you may well have experienced ourselves. Zimmer gives an example of a German NATO officer writing about “the cupertino with our Italian comrades,” and another from the EU scientific and research committee talking about “stimulating cross-border cupertino.”

I, personally, love this. When future generations, or aliens, or whomever you believe will be doing it, are combing through the remains of our civilization and they’re poring over NATO and EU documents, there is some possibility that they might think that cupertino is a synonym for cooperation, I mean co-operation, I mean cupertino. And, if you follow my logic, the next step would have to be imagining that this here, the real Cupertino, had been the source of peace and unity. And it’s also just very, very funny.

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