December 04, 2007

GOP cell phones?

Here's a rather startling headline for a recent Associated Press article, as hosted by Google News:

If you click through to the article, you'll see that Montclair State University is requiring students to carry cell phones with GPS tracking devices, not cell phones from the Grand Old Party. But somehow GPS got changed to GOP by the AP headline writer or an intervening editor. It no longer reads that way on the AP site or on most of the news outlets that have hosted the article, but at the moment it still lingers on Google News and some foreign outposts of Yahoo! News.

Thanks to Eric Jusino for sending this in. Eric suspects that the Cupertino effect is to blame here, and he may well be right that this is a spellchecker-induced slipup. GPS is a relatively new abbreviation, so it's conceivable that a spellchecker wordlist still lacks it and has GOP as a suggested correction. That wouldn't be a very good wordlist, though, as GPS has been around since 1974, according to the OED, and has been in all the leading American dictionaries for a while now.

(And thanks to all the other readers who have sent in possible Cupertino-isms. I hope to do another Cupertino roundup in the near future.)

[Update, Dec. 6: Kilian Hekhuis writes in with a more likely scenario:

It may very well be possible the spell checker did not correct GPS to GOP (since I'd expect all references to GPS to be affected), but a misspelling of GPS, most likely GSP. GSP would be a common misspelling since GS are types with one hand, and P with the other. Being a bit too fast with the S, the P lags behind creating GSP. And I can see GSP being 'corrected' to GOP (although personally I think GPS should be higher on the correction list than GOP, given that letter reversal is more common than typing an S where an O should be).

So that would group this example with other incorrections of actual misspellings, like aquainted getting changed to aquatinted instead of acquainted, or dentified getting changed to dentrified instead of identified.]

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at December 4, 2007 02:23 PM