The dreaded autocorrect disaster

by Joanne Black / 25 July, 2017
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Autocorrect may hide your texting and typing bloopers, but it won’t stop your blushes.

Recently, I had such an awful autocorrect spelling episode that I am considering buying a quill and ink and swearing off communications technology forever. I was emailing the golfer Phil Tataurangi, whom I was wanting to interview as part of my research for a book I’m writing about Kiwi businessman Craig Heatley. Tataurangi happened to be here in Washington DC and staying at a downtown hotel.

In an email to set up a venue for the interview, he said there was only a Starbucks nearby. I am wary about interviews in cafes because a coffee machine sounds like a jet engine preparing for take-off when, by Murphy’s Law, a barista starts making a cappuccino just as my interview subject has reached a crucial moment in their story. So I replied, “What’s the lobby of your hotel like? Might be quieter than Starbucks.”

It was late at night as we emailed and I was typing on my phone. Because it was just a short note, I sent it without checking it.

By the next morning, Tataurangi had replied and I read back the previous emails to remind myself where we were up to. That’s when, to my horror, I saw I had not typed, as intended, “… Might be quieter than Starbucks”. Instead, the email actually read, “What’s the lobby of your hotel like? Might be whiter than Starbucks.”

Whiter than Starbucks? Whiter? God, no! Surely not. Until then, I do not think I had ever written the word “whiter” in my life – not even about ceiling paint – and nor did I write it in the email. I must have mistyped the word “quieter” and it autocorrected before I sent it to this person I had never met.

Mortification does not begin to describe the feeling. I do think a little bit of me died then and there. Tataurangi was gracious. He said he had done a double take when he first read it, but the next sentence had said, “We just need a relatively quiet space so I can run my tape recorder”, so he figured I’d fallen victim to predictive text.

I cringe to think of the permutations of having sent that message to someone else in other circumstances, although sending it to Tataurangi was bad enough. We subsequently met in his hotel lobby, had a good interview and, as we wrapped up and I thanked him for his time, he said, “No problem.” Then, grinning, he waved his arm around and said, “Was it white enough for you here?” He laughed. I might, too, in about a hundred years.

Our genuine American-born-and-bred next-door neighbours came over at 3.30am last Saturday to watch the first All Blacks vs Lions test match live. The neighbours are either kindly supportive of having Kiwis next door or are simply insomniacs masquerading as being kindly supportive.

They had never watched rugby union before, so it seemed appropriate that their inaugural game should have been at such a ridiculous hour. After all, an alarm clock is essential kit for New Zealand spectators, whether for a Northern Hemisphere test or a royal wedding. This time we were doing it in reverse.

Our neighbours’ first queries were about the haka. But it was in explaining that players’ heads were taped in order to keep their ears intact that reminded me what a ludicrous game rugby is.

By the end, I am not sure what the neighbours thought, so I am pleased a few months will pass before we suggest they might like to watch cricket, then break it to them that it lasts five days.

This article was first published in the July 8, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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