Strange Choices

May 4, 2011

Have you heard of autocorrect? If you are one of the modern people who has a modern, “smart” phone (“Phones can know.”), you are probably accustomed to having your phone, which for all its smartness is not the best for typing, make on-the-go corrections to your important text messages and e-mails. Most of the time, these corrections are very useful, and sometimes they are hilarious. The iPhone, notwithstanding the typographical curiosity of its purported spelling, is notorious for its prolific and often bizarre corrections.

The iPad, being basically a big iPhone without a phone or a camera, also has the autocorrect feature, and since I have an iPad, I am ever more acquainted with its foibles. Generally, I like the autocorrect (when you add “the” to a technological word where it doesn’t really belong, by the way, you are gently conveying to your reader that you are something of a fuddy-duddy), especially when I am working on Spanish translations, which is what I do a lot of on the iPad. You see, Apple’s word processing program, Pages, seems to have a much more comprehensive Spanish dictionary than Microsoft Word, which insists on closing its eyes to the existence of some verb conjugations. What’s more, making diacritic marks (that is, accent marks and tildes, like in the word “compañía”) is sort of a pain in the ass: On most Windows computers, you have to hold down ALT and hit a three-number sequence on the numeric keypad – especially annoying if you are on a laptop that doesn’t have a numeric keypad, because then you must also hold the function key down, but that sometimes inadvertently triggers secret functions that make the computer do other funny things; on the iPad, you have to hold down the letter that needs an accent, and after a moment a little menu appears with all the possible marks, and you have to slide your finger to the one you want – it’s tricky. But with autocorrect, many words that need accents just get them automagically. Obviously, there are some words that exist both with and without the diacritic: “Sí se puede,” which was a phrase much bandied about during the last presidential election, means “YES, it can be done” (“Yes we can” is more euphonious but a less faithful translation). “Si se puede,” on the other hand, gives us the more dubious “IF it can be done.” Still autocorrect is handy for accent marks most of the time.

But here’s the strange choice that Apple made that vexes me so: In English, if you type I-T-S, it automatically gives you “it’s.” I think this is a weird choice because (1) it’s and its are both used enough that it seems odd to favor one over the other and (2) it further contributes to many people’s inability to use the two words correctly. I have to conclude, though, that Apple erred on the side of it’s because it does show up more often and it requires more keystrokes to type. But then in Spanish, we have this problem: If you type M-A-S, you get (surprise!) “mas.” And “mas” is a word in Spanish – it’s an antiquated word for “but,” which no one ever uses because everyone just writes “pero,” and using “mas” to say “but” is like randomly saying “hath” or “goeth” in English. But “más” IS a frequently used word in Spanish – it means “more” and people say it and write it all the time. So why doesn’t Apple autocorrect M-A-S to “más”? Más exceeds mas in frequency by about a gajillion and it has more keystrokes, so the its/it’s reasoning demands it.

Sadly, this is the shit that keeps me up at night.


One Response to “Strange Choices”

  1. Alice said

    This is the shit that keeps you up for DAYS, if our conversation about it last week is any indication!!!! P.S. Love “automagically.” Love it. xoxo

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