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OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: Not irreplaceable?

by Brenda Looper | August 16, 2023 at 3:21 a.m.
Brenda Looper

Longtime readers know I'm often easily amused, especially when it comes to words. Soooo ... imagine my face when I saw on Facebook the other day a screenshot of a post by novelist Aprilynne Pike that said: "My British publisher replaced pants with trousers and the book WENT TO PRINT with the word occutrousers."

Oh, how technology does love to mess with us. Whether it's a find-and-replace function that went too far or autocorrect (OK, phone, when I type "column," that's what I mean; I never mean Columbia), word nerds can often find something to amuse us. I swear, that's what we're laughing at, not that weird hat you're wearing. And where did you get those pants?

I've had more than a few of my own find-and-replace disasters, but nothing as funny as occutrousers (my brain keeps picturing an octopus wearing pants even though the prefix is occu-, not octo-).

Philip Howard of the Ocracoke Island Journal blog wrote in 2012 that he was given a Nook e-reader (from Barnes & Noble) when he was about halfway through "War and Peace," and while he loved the lightness of the tablet in comparison to the weighty tome, he noticed something odd.

"As I was reading, I came across this sentence: 'It was as if a light had been Nookd in a carved and painted lantern ... .' Thinking this was simply a glitch in the software, I ignored the intrusive word and continued reading. Some pages later I encountered the rogue word again. With my third encounter I decided to retrieve my hard-cover book and find the original (well, the translated) text.

"For the sentence above I discovered this genuine translation: 'It was as if a light had been kindled in a carved and painted lantern ... .'"

So what happened? Most likely, the publisher took the original text for the Kindle edition (the e-reader from Amazon) and did a find-and-replace for any markers of it being a Kindle edition, replacing them with Nook. However, they apparently didn't place any limits on it, so instead of just changing the title page and any other parts that might say "Kindle edition," they replaced every instance of "kindle" in the book with "Nook."

It goes to show that you can rely on technology too much. Like back in 2008 when OneNewsNow, run by the Christian conservative American Family Association, put out an altered Associated Press story with the headline "Homosexual eases into 100 final at Olympic trials," and this gem of a sentence: "Tyson Homosexual was a blur in blue, sprinting 100 meters faster than anyone ever has."

You might be thinking ... wait ... do they mean Tyson Gay? You'd be correct. (UA track standout Gay, as well as quarterback Casey Dick, made it difficult to write headlines without sounding dirty sometimes. I was lucky that at the time there were stories on them I was working on either the features or news copy desk, so I rarely had to deal with that. I pitied my sports compatriots who had no choice but to do so.)

Numerous stories at the time pointed out that the American Family Association used an automated system to replace "forbidden" words like gay, not taking into account that there might be people who have those as names (like Gay Talese, Rudy Gay, and Gay White, for example). Runner's World quipped on that bit of political correctness: "Sprinter Tyson Gay can outrun the world's fastest men--but he can't beat automated editing software."

What to do? Well, the best thing to do, as a commenter on Neatorama's post on the to-do four years later (when Gay was heading to the London Summer Olympics and the story came up again) noted: "There is no substitute for proofreading. My company had been sending out manuals that had search/replaced every 'unit' with 'instrument' and ended up with 'Instrumented States of America' on the last page."

Proofreading? That's like ... work, right?

Nah. Not gonna happen.

Autocorrect is its own little hellscape, and usually seems to pick exactly the wrong word that will get you into trouble. Especially if you're texting with your boss. (Danger! Danger!)

My friends know that it sometimes will take me a while to answer a text to them, not only because I ramble and fight with the tiny keyboard, especially when I'm tired, but because autocorrect on my phone is trying to kill me. Maybe just with laughter, but the intent is clearly there. I mean, "stalker" instead of "Statler" (as in Statler and Waldorf of Muppets fame), "fetus" instead of "feta," "burrito" instead of "burr," wallet" instead of "mallet," and "naked" instead of "nuked"?

That's brother-level annoying. Somewhere in the great beyond, my brother Corey is looking down and saying, "Good job, y'all."

Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at Read her blog at

Print Headline: Not irreplaceable?


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