Junne Webb recently texted a friend to say, "I like fried children."
Ernesto Hernandez texted his friend, "Is your sister busty?"
Jed Rapp Goldstein very nearly called his co-workers "Visigoths" in a post on Twitter.
The silent co-author of these blunders -- as anyone who has ever typed on a tiny touch screen can attest -- is a mobile phone's autocorrect function.
A technology designed to fix our sloppy typing, autocorrect software nonetheless can create garbled, mortifying or unintentionally hilarious messages that people often send before noticing they didn't write quite what they intended. And because of the sheer volume of messages people send from their phones these days, autocorrect mistakes have become a pop culture phenomenon unto themselves.
"It just happens so often. Text culture is to send first, ask questions later," says Goldstein, who works for an educational consulting business in Berkeley.
Autocorrect software is what quickly substitutes the word "the" if you have accidentally typed "thw" on your phone's touch screen, for example. Typically, the software gives you the option of keeping your funky spelling. You can also disable autocorrect. But most people do not, so when they quickly and inaccurately poke away at their touch screens, the software often pops in unwanted words.
That's how you might wind up texting your spouse that you'll pick up
The pervasive phenomenon has given rise to such sites as DamnYouAutocorrect.com and AutocorrectFail.org, which corral people's most embarrassing and silly autocorrect malapropisms, some of which are so comical that first-time visitors frequently gasp for air as they read.
"We're all talking so fast and communicating so fast that these things are bound to happen," says Connecticut resident Jillian Madison, who launched DamnYouAutocorrect in October 2010 after she texted a couple of friends to invite them over for movies and gelato -- but when she misspelled "gelato" as "gellato," her iPhone auto-corrected her with a word, typically not printed in this newspaper, that describes a sex act. (Go ahead and type it on your iPhone; we'll wait!)
These days, Madison gets about 600 submissions a day to DamnYouAutocorrect, the majority from iPhone users, she says.
Those who haven't written any legitimately twisted texts recently and want to gin up fake ones to submit to Madison or AutocorrectFail.org can visit iFakeText.com. The site will generate a simulated screen shot of a text message conversation that you can type in yourself. But Madison says she is pretty good at sniffing out the fakes, and won't put them on her site, no matter how funny.
Laugh-out-loud-worthy autocorrections didn't happen as often when most texting was done on keypads with real buttons instead of on touch-screen keyboards, says Lex Friedman, a staff writer for San Francisco-based Macworld magazine who describes himself as "obsessed with autocorrect."
"The complete lack of any kind of tactile feedback makes typing harder. I think that's when autocorrect became a necessity," he says.
None of the companies behind the major mobile phone platforms -- iPhone, Android or BlackBerry -- would comment on the nuts and bolts of who programs their autocorrect software and how it works exactly.
But Friedman estimates that the iPhone's autocorrect, for example, contains a dictionary of 40,000 to 60,000 words. The software is designed to "learn" the words that a user types most often, he says. So if you type a particular name or slang word frequently, the phone will eventually stop trying to change it.
Of course, it may take a while, as Simone Francese, of San Bruno, found with her iPhone. She would try to type "byeeee" and get "busses." "I try to type how I talk, and I don't go 'bye,' I go 'byeeee,' " she says. Eventually the phone got it.
To avoid sending potentially embarrassing or confusing autocorrection errors, experts advise that mobile typists take the old-fashioned step of -- gasp! -- checking their work.
Goldstein actually caught the error in his Twitter post, going back to delete "Visigoths" and type "co-workers," the word he really wanted.
"Visigoths" and "co-workers" bear little resemblance, though some of their letters are adjacent on the keyboard. But it's the kind of substitution that makes one wonder if a team of software programmers holed up in a loft somewhere were cackling madly as they planned some of the more confounding word swaps.
Some autocorrect substitutions are more transparent. Webb, a San Jose native now living near Tracy, slipped up when she attempted to convey her fondness for fried "chicken," not "children."
And of course Hernandez, a 26-year-old San Francisco resident, didn't see the error in his text until it was too late: He meant to ask his friend if his sister was "busy," not "busty."
"That was kind of awkward," he says.
Hernandez says he tends to type pretty fast when he's messaging his buddies. "I'm more mindful when I'm writing to someone I work with, or my boss," he says. "I might actually go back and proofread it before I send it."
Contact Sue McAllister at 408-920-5833.
Some autocorrect software is designed to "learn" names and slang you type often. In the future, the software will eventually get better at recognizing the context of what you're typing, experts say.