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Gay Search-and-Replace

Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, Osaka 2007 World Championships

Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, Osaka 2007 World Championships

[Stu Forster/Getty Images]

Last month I wrote about the dangers of search-and-replace algorithms, making reference to a post by Benjamin Zimmer at Language Log in which he discussed some examples, his post being precipitated by the Chicago Tribune online obit for Walter Cronkite that had “Mr.” inserted before every appearance of his name. (For example, there was a quote from his daughter, “Kathy Mr. Cronkite.”)

In my post, I quoted Zimmer’s passage that recalled other examples of unfortunate search-and-replacing, the most interesting of which was the replacement of “gay” by “homosexual” at the American Family Association’s OneNewsNow site, resulting in the American Sprinter Tyson Gay becoming Tyson Homosexual. Zimmer has a fuller treatment of the Gay-Homosexual gaffe in a Language Log post he wrote just after the 2008 US Olympic Trials, where Gay won the 100 meter race but injured himself in the 200 meters. (As a result of the injury, Gay didn’t qualify to run in the 200m at the Beijing Olympics, and because of a re-aggravation of the injury, he failed to qualify at the Olympics for the 100 meter finals.) Zimmer includes screen shots of OneNewsNow headlines such as, “Homosexual runs wind-aided 9.68 seconds to make Olympics.” Zimmer explains that the “American Family Association is a conservative Christian group chaired by Donald Wildmon, dedicated in part to combating the ‘homosexual agenda.’ This fight apparently includes changing all instances of gay in its online news outlet to homosexual.”

I mention all this again because as I was watching the men’s 100 meter races at the IAAF World Championships last weekend,* I couldn’t stop myself from thinking of and laughing at Tyson Gay’s new moniker every time I saw him. Plus, I was early in my reading of Julia Child’s memoir My Life in France last weekend, as a result of which I was simultaneously in the process of re-adjusting myself to the old-fashioned use of “gay” as happy-merry-lively. (I finished the book two nights ago. See last night’s post.) In recounting her early months in Paris, where she moved with her husband Paul in 1948, Child repeatedly uses “gay” to describe events and people. I would love to re-read those passages after the application of overzealous, wrong-headed search-and-replace.

*Recall that Gay entered this week’s IAAF World Championships in Berlin as the defending champion from the 2007 Osaka world championship in both the 100 meter and 200 meter races. He is no longer the top sprinter in the world, but still can lay claim to best in the world as we know it, since Usain Bolt seems to be from another planet. Bolt won both 100m and 200m races at the Beijing Olympics last year in world record time. In Berlin this week, Bolt set world records yet again in winning both events. (See my post on the 100m and my post on the 200m.) Gay was second in Sunday’s 100m, running the fastest non-Boltian time ever. Due again to injury, Gay withdrew from the 200m.

Categories: Books, Language, Sports, Stupidity
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