Gideon Lewis-Kraus talked to autocorrect inventor Dean Hachamovitch for Wired, and learned why some swear words don’t get autocorrected:
On idiom, some of its calls seemed fairly clear-cut: gorilla warfare became guerrilla warfare, for example, even though a wildlife biologist might find that an inconvenient assumption. But some of the calls were quite tricky, and one of the trickiest involved the issue of obscenity. On one hand, Word didn’t want to seem priggish; on the other, it couldn’t very well go around recommending the correct spelling of mothrefukcer. Microsoft was sensitive to these issues. The solution lay in expanding one of spell-check’s most special lists, bearing the understated title: “Words which should neither be flagged nor suggested.”
I called up Thorpe, who now runs a Boston-based startup called Philo, to ask him how the idea for the list came about. An inspiration, as he recalls it, was a certain Microsoft user named Bill Vignola. One day Vignola sent Bill Gates an email. (Thorpe couldn’t recall who Bill Vignola was or what he did.) Whenever Bill Vignola typed his own name in MS Word, the email to Gates explained, it was automatically changed to Bill Vaginal. Presumably Vignola caught this sometimes, but not always, and no doubt this serious man was sad to come across like a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel. His email made it down the chain of command to Thorpe. And Bill Vaginal wasn’t the only complainant: As Thorpe recalls, Goldman Sachs was mad that Word was always turning it into Goddamn Sachs.
Thorpe went through the dictionary and took out all the words marked as “vulgar.” Then he threw in a few anatomical terms for good measure. The resulting list ran to hundreds of entries:
anally, asshole, battle-axe, battleaxe, bimbo, booger, boogers, butthead, Butthead …
Photo: Meaghan O’Malley