Amid the news yesterday of Walter Cronkite’s death, there was an amusing post by Benjamin Zimmer over at Language Log. Zimmer was following up on a short note by Jan Freeman at the Boston Globe, in which Freeman describes an error (since corrected) at the Chicago Tribune website.
Freeman observes that the Tribune had made a search-and-replace error in their online obit for Cronkite, replacing all instances of “Cronkite” with “Mr. Cronkite.” As a result, we learn that “he was born Walter Leland Mr. Cronkite, Jr.,” we read a quote from “daughter Kathy Mr. Cronkite,” and we learn of his son “Walter Mr. Cronkite III.” Freeman calls this a Cupertino error, crediting Zimmer for the terminology, but Zimmer notes in his post that “since there is no spellchecker to blame, I would classify it as a more general search-and-replace error, based on an inaccurately applied style policy. In this case, the style policy is that recently deceased males get called ‘Mr.’ by the Tribune.”
Zimmer goes on to recall other examples of search-and-replace error:
As I discussed in the post “Incorrections in the newsroom: Cupertino and beyond,” the classic example of this is the old canard about a newspaper replacing “back in the black” with “back in the African American.” Turns out this story originated as a practical joke by a prankster at the Fresno Bee in 1990, but in that post I provide a couple of real examples of search-and-replace errors — including the fascinating Reuters report that revealed, “Queen Elizabeth has 10 times the lifespan of workers and lays up to 2,000 eggs a day.” (Blame that on a search-and-replace of “the queen” with “Queen Elizabeth.”) And more recently, a conservative Christian news site managed to change the name of sprinter Tyson Gay to “Tyson Homosexual.”