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Did They Really Write That!? An Allstar Among Typos

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Obama administration vet Psaki to lead Biden's Senate confirmation team

"Obama administration veteran Jen Psaki will lead the team helping to sherpa President-elect Joe Biden's nominees through the Senate confirmation processes."

Of course, the author of this statement meant "shepherd." But in this day of print-ready journalism, where every reporter is their own editor (Hey look, I have used the newly politically correct, inclusive possessive pronoun ├degrees┼Ş╦ť"degrees to refer to a person whose gender is indeterminate), the journalist apparently didn't look at what had actually appeared on their screen before clicking the send button.

In fact, it is likely that no reporter was involved, just some information mill-- I'm talking about a person-- who just churns out "the news" at NBC News, in the way we would churn out railroad crossties and house lumber at the ol' sawmill I used to work at.

But this is surely one of the all-time best examples of the unnecessary intrusiveness of autocorrect mechanisms I've seen online. Makes me wonder what electronic thought processes the auto-correct program goes through to get from some inadvertently misspelled attempt at the word "shepherd" to "sherpa."

Lessee: let's say the typist entered "shepard," perhaps the most likely, homophonic variant of the intended word, as both "Shepard" and "Shepherd" are not uncommon surnames. Or maybe they just hit an "a" instead of the second "e", and thus typed "shephard."

Those possible explanations at least get all the letters of "sherpa" in, though not in order, and the "d" makes it even less direct. I tested the mechanism on my own PC, and "shepherd" is clearly the word the machine intends the erring typist to use in both cases.

Any other combination of letters is even less understandable. "Sharper" and "sharpen" are the first two words which are not proper names with all the letters of "sherpa" adjacent to one another, that come to mind, but there is no possible context in which the typist could have used them. "Sharpie" and "shar-pei" contain the letters, but ditto on context. Note: if you write "shar-pei" (a dog breed), but forget the hyphen, the machine assumes you meant to write "sharpie."

And it is possible, in one's flights of fancy, to imagine that the typist actually meant to use the noun "sherpa" (a Tibetan mountaineer; think, Tensing Norgay, who was Sir Edmund Hillary's guide on Mount Everest) as a transitive verb, implying that the obstacles between Biden's appointees and confirmation by the Senate are figuratively Himalayan.

It's not an inappropriate metaphor; however, I assure myself that it is my own metaphor, not this typist's. Of course, the practice in English of using nouns as verbs is very common: "wolf down," "dog," and "hog" are examples. But I'm not giving this typist credit for that much creativity in the space of a one-sentence piece of news information.

We are left with the conclusion that this information mill of a journalist-editor was just operating too fast to go back for a millisecond to 5th or 6th grade, in English class, when they were learning vocabulary, and with almost 100 percent certainty had encountered the common word "shepherd", with a definition. Undoubtedly they had encountered or used it numberless times in their information-handling career.

They knew the word, because they correctly used it, or what they thought was precisely it, in context. Ms. Psaki has been given a supervising responsibility by the Biden transition team, and "shepherd" is what, in political terms, she will be doing.

The insignificance of a typo in a virtually unnecessary, unfinished story-- where was the rest of it? Why nothing at all about Ms. Psaki, except that she worked in the Obama Administration?-- is truly the antithesis of breathtaking. 36 years ago, when I was at Journalism School, in an ancient age when word processors and print-ready journalism were only beginning to replace typewriters and linotype printing, Professor McDonald had an uproarious session on published typos and grammatical errors for our entry-level J2003 class, and this one would sure have fit in!

But as a Luddite at heart, I feel like ripping the auto-correct "feature" out of this laptop in the same way I removed an unreliable and unnecessary automatic side door opener from my last band van.

(Article changed on November 19, 2020 at 16:38)

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William P. Homans Social Media Pages: Facebook Page       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

My name is William Perkins Homans the third, but probably more people know me as the bluesman (and artist) Watermelon Slim.

I've been in the fight against war, fascism, injustice and inhumanity for 47 years. I was at MayDay, 1971, (more...)

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