Autocorrect Calls This 'Guilin'

PUBLISHED: August 6, 2013

Back in the ink-on-paper days, they used to say that if you sat a chimpanzee in front of a typewriter and let him pound away long enough, you'd eventually wind up with the works of William Shakespeare. With autocorrect, that chimp's job would presumably be a whole lot easier.

Yet even the most prolific chimp would struggle miserably on an iPad, iPhone or other devices that twist, turn and over-correct whatever words you're attempting to type.

It seems like only yesterday that we were blessed with the curse of programs that check our spelling and fix our typos, but this is actually the 20th anniversary of what Microsoft dubbed AutoCorrect in 1993. Word 6.0 boasted that it would "easily correct capital letters" and "correct your common misspellings." It also spawned a raft of books such as "Damn You, Autocorrect!"—and motivated an entire generation of students to abandon all attempts at learning to spell.

As an epically poor speller myself, I'm forced to rely on autocorrect tools to keep me out of trouble. But for every 10 errors my iPad fixes, it forces me into at least one mistake that was not my doing.

Today I wrote a note to my friend Jay, but my iPad felt very strongly that his name was Kay. I mentioned the TV host Geraldo in a column I was drafting, but it came out Geraldine Rivera. In writing about the British Open, I mentioned the golfer Ian Poulter, who instantly became Mr. Poultry.

I have a habit of writing columns in Apple Mail and sending them to myself, and I usually don't bother with a formal subject line, preferring to tap a few random letters as a placeholder. For this column, iPad decided my gibberish should be switched to Guilin, which turns out to be a city on the Li River in southern China.

Our fascination with unintended corrections is so great that some websites, like, which reports autocorrect mistakes, are now challenged by readers who say they can't get their devices to replicate the humorous errors.

Autocorrect on iPad and iPhone will almost always try to help you with an apostrophe, whether you want one or not. Cant becomes can't, even if you're actually referring to insincerity. Ill becomes I'll as fast as your finger hits the screen, even though the folks at Apple presumably mean no ill will.

Occasionally I write about my experiences on "Candid Camera," the show that specialized in pranking. However, Apple inevitably autocorrects to suggest that in my career I've done a lot of prancing.

Perhaps history's biggest autocorrect gaffe occurred in Hall County, Ga., last year, when two schools were shut down by a text that led authorities to fear that someone dangerous was headed to a West Hall school. In fact one student had texted a friend, "gunna be at west hall today," but his mobile device autocorrected it as "gunman be at west hall today."

And what about that chimpanzee? Would the creature's writing be helped or hindered by autocorrect? I decided to try the chimp-at-the-keyboard test by randomly tapping letters on my iPad. Khfkigf became kickoff. Jfkfhe turned into jiggle. Ckrj was cork. And Guiug was guilt.

My research left me without a clue about how an actual chimpanzee would do with an autocorrecting device. All I know is that this technology has succeeded in making a monkey out of me.

(c) Peter Funt. This column originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

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