Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Perils of the Search-Replace Function

I saw this post on Mary Ann Akers' "Behind the Scenes" blog on washingtonpost.com, and wanted to share it with my small cadre of faithful readers. It reminds me of a time a friend accepted an alternate proper name spelling suggested by spellcheck, causing her to send an email to dozens of high-level managers that referred to a colleague as Ms. Jerk. Only this one is much more appalling:

The American Family Association obviously didn't foresee the problems that might arise with its strict policy to always replace the word "gay" with "homosexual" on the Web site of its Christian news outlet, OneNewsNow. The group's automated system for changing the forbidden word wound up publishing a story about a world-class sprinter named "Tyson Homosexual" who qualified this week for the Beijing Olympics.

The problem: Tyson's real last name is Gay. Therefore, OneNewsNow's reliable software changed the Associated Press story about Tyson Gay's amazing Olympic qualifying trial to read this way:

Tyson Homosexual was a blur in blue, sprinting 100 meters faster than anyone ever has.

His time of 9.68 seconds at the U.S. Olympic trials Sunday doesn't count as a world record, because it was run with the help of a too-strong tailwind. Here's what does matter: Homosexual qualified for his first Summer Games team and served notice he's certainly someone to watch in Beijing.

"It means a lot to me," the 25-year-old Homosexual said. "I'm glad my body could do it, because now I know I have it in me."

More on Mary Ann's blog. Even more is available (including a play-by-play of the AFA's bumbling attempts to fix the problem) on the gay rights site that caught the mistake, goodasyou.org.

My final thought, now that I've stopped giggling, is this: the word gay has several uses. It is obviously a first and last name. It is a place name -- Gay Head, Massachusetts, comes to mind. It is the name of a historically significant WWII airplane, the Enola Gay. I'm sure there are plenty more. It boggles my mind that the the AFA site approved an automated process that wipes out a word from the english language, replacing it wholesale with a word that only sometimes works as a synonym.

You really just can't replace human reasoning with an automated process.

3 comments:

Rebecca said...

LOL. I was reading a piece about Gay in Sports Illustrated earlier this week and wondered to myself how much teasing he endured growing up. Then I thought, "Well, he's young. Maybe that nonsense is leaving the younger generations." Search-and-replace goofs like this certainly aren't helping.

Mel said...

Good chuckle for sure!
I can't understand why some words are so offensive to some who delegate themselves as an authority on the subject and meaningless to others. One of my best guy friends is gay, errrrr, sorry, homosexual, and he says he wishes the whole world would stop making such a fuss over it all and just let them live their lifes like everyone else.
Psht.

dcpeg said...

Thanks for a new take on an article that made me laugh so hard I nearly fell off my chair! "Enola Homosexual" is just so twisted and utterly ridiculous like some of the AFA's stands. They deserve some embarrassment!