Raymond misreads newspaper head… no wait, I didn’t!

I have a habit of misreading newspaper headlines, so I simply assumed that this was just another one: Phelps sets word record in 400 IM. (And no, I don't normally read the Rocky Mountain News. The actual headline was printed across the top of the June 30 Seattle Times Sports section, but I couldn't find the headline in the online archives, so I found another newspaper with the same headline.)

Wow, how fast did he IM 400 words?

Duh, I must've misread it. Obviously the headline said world record.

No wait, it really was word record!

Comments (26)
  1. nathan_works says:

    Maybe they were exporting the copy-editing jobs to India ? http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92126544

  2. tsrblke says:

    I guess no one checks AP stuff for typos before they shove it out.

  3. Josh says:

    The best part of this is that my Outlook RSS reader thinks it might be a phishing scam :)

  4. Poochner says:

    @tsrbike:  No, they don’t.  AP is renowned for having the worst cruft in their articles of any such service.  I believe this comes from historically being a true wire service.  The 5-bit baudot Teletype mindset is still there, even though they’re on that new-fangled "Internet" thing these days.  They expect the articles to be printed and some flunky to set them into the subscriber system before they go to a printer.

  5. Jack says:

    I get the Rocky Mountain News delivered (as in a hard-copy shows up in my driveway).

  6. asymtote says:

    This is a good example of why natural language processing is a hard problem. To know that there is a spelling mistake in this heading you would have to know that it appeared in the Sports section of a newspaper and that as the summer Olympics are coming up the word "Phelps" probably refers to Michael Phelps the swimmer. From this you can deduce that IM probably means Individual Medley, not Instant Messages and therefore that a "word record" makes no sense and that it should have read "world record".

    Context is an essential part of natural language processing and sometimes that context spans the breadth of human experience. More and more of that experience is available through the internet so it’s possible that machine understanding of natural language will be solved in my lifetime.

  7. slimpie says:

    I can read a fair bit of english but that article just trumps me!

    Just point at this if anyone whines about msdn docs. Hats off to anyone who has written articles for msdn.

  8. Steve D says:

    I actually read it as ‘world record’ on the first pass and only noticed the word ‘word’ when reviewing it…

  9. BryanK says:

    That’s because your RSS reader’s phishing "filter" is dumb.  It just assumes that any link pointing to an IP address instead of a hostname is automatically a "might-be-a-scam" link.  Just like one particular open-source mail client’s phishing "filter".  Sigh.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure how to fix that either.

    Slightly more on topic, I should note that the article *was* actually about world records; just the title was wrong.  (When I first read this, I thought the "no wait, I didn’t" part was referring to the article really being about word records.  But no, it turns out that that part was only referring to the headline.  Maybe I should start a "BryanK misreads blog posts" or something.  ;-) )

  10. mikeb says:

    I didn’t understand the headline even after knowing "word" should be "world", since I had no idea what a "400 IM" was.

    As slimpie mentions, the entire article is pretty much a mess (not of typo’s – just a mess).

    In between items describing the outcome of the swim trials, we have things that are pretty much non sequiturs.  For example, a mention of a Doberman named after a favorite rapper, and some hints of a scandal about swimsuit sponsorship.  Apparently Nike swimsuits are not as good as Speedo, so Nike-sponsored swimmers are wearing Speedo instead, not too mention that Speedo is being sued by some company named "TYR Sport" (but no real details given).  So we get full details of the suits the swimmers were wearing.  

    Oh, and one of the swimmers is related to Diane Sawyer.

    I’d prefer if they expanded on the swimwear scandal and leave the other stuff out.

  11. Boris says:

    But will Phelps make .5 past lightspeed?

  12. Indian says:

    "Maybe they were exporting the copy-editing jobs to India?"

    Yeah right. The average Indian journalist/editor is as intelligent or dumb as your friendly neighbourhood American bozo holding down the same job, give or take a few percentage IQ points. So get over your ignorance and stop making stupid generalisations for a change.

  13. Dog says:

    @Indian: Intelligence has nothing to do with it. Unless something very drastic has happened recently, English is not the most widely spoken language in India.

    Thus, you can expect the average Indian’s English skills not to be up to the standard of somebody who has lived in an English-speaking country all their life.

  14. Indian says:

    @Dog: Yes, but when you talk about "exporting the [English language] copy-editing jobs [to India]", wouldn’t you expect the people who got those jobs to be above your average Indian as far as their English proficiency goes?

    I may be a bit too prickly about this, but I do hate it when people use broad generalisations. It’s not as if Americans have to look as far afield as India to find people who cannot string together a single coherent sentence in English even if their life depended on it.

    I vote we move on, unless someone else feels the irrational need to jump to Nathan’s defence for making unsubstantiated statements.

  15. Boris says:

    The problem with Nathan’s assertion is that skills at copy-editing are not determined by the copy-editor’s location. At best, you can say that given two copy-editors of equal training (and you absolutely need training even if you are a native speaker), the native speaker will have a slight advantage because linguistics tells us that the structure of the language is ingrained in him.

    Dog, on the other hand, is essentially saying that an Indian will take the job even if his skills are average, which is discriminatory. Are we going to keep scientific jobs out of America and move them to some other country because the average American’s math skills are lower than those in the other country? We’re comparing professionals here, not average people.

  16. Dog says:

    @Boris: I said nothing of the sort. I simply asserted that the average Indian will not have the same level of English skill as the average American/Canadian/Briton/Australian/etc.

    As to weather the "average" Indian would be employed as an English-language copy-editor, than is a hiring issue, which of course shows the real problem with indiscriminate outsourcing: You get what you pay for, no matter which country you get it from.

  17. Boris says:

    Dog: the point is that people with average English skills are irrelevant to the discussion–you bring them in, and at best you’re implying that copy-editing normally employs people whose skills depend on the average level of English education in the country, regardless of whether we’re talking about America or India. At worst, you are saying that copy-editing works this way in India.

    Nathan’s comment just isn’t defensible, since he tied the issue to the geographical location instead of a specific copy-editing company with bad reputation, for instance.

  18. Michiel says:

    Besides English skills, we’re also ignoring culture. Would an Indian copy-editor be familiar with Phelps? AFAIK, India isn’t as sport-minded as the US. Hence, editors there would be more likley to read IM as Instant Message.

  19. Boris says:

    Michiel: there’s always the text of the article and the internet. It’s not a quiz show.

  20. nathan_works says:

    Indefensible, maybe. As someone who’s lost positions to offshoring (though not oursourcing), where quality suffered, I bring my own baggage. Add in a noted, timely news story exactly on topic with the same controversy about the quality of offshored work, and it meshes well.

  21. RayG says:

    @mikeb: The Rocky had already put in a nice article on the controversy over the Speedo LZR racing suit a couple of days earlier: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2008/jun/27/speedos-new-swimsuit-pushing-buttons/

  22. Indian says:

    Boris seems to have understood where I was coming from exactly.

    Michiel – "Besides English skills, we’re also ignoring culture. Would an Indian copy-editor be familiar with Phelps? AFAIK, India isn’t as sport-minded as the US. Hence, editors there would be more likley to read IM as Instant Message."

    More unfounded assumptions, as well as the fact that you seem to be somehow mixing things up and attributing Raymond’s (mis-)reading of IM to Indian copy-editors!

    @Nathan: I understand your frustration, but I guess even you will agree with what Dog said, that "with indiscriminate outsourcing: You get what you pay for, no matter which country you get it from". Corporations in a hurry to maximise profits ignore this reality at their own peril and all the while, people on both sides are the ones who actually suffer. Still, I disagree with you regarding the stories meshing well (or meshing at all), for flippant comments like that only serve to whip up hysteria among simple-minded people who cannot see beyond the length of their own noses at the real world that lies beyond.

    As an Indian, it irritates me no end when my country-people are vilified by those who fail to grasp reality and prefer easy scapegoats to blame for all their troubles rather than bothering to stand up to their own corporations. </rant>

  23. Stephen Jones says:

    Indian English has its own peculiarities. There are scarcely any native speakers (less than 200,000 in the last census) so what you have, excluding the diaspora, is a certain number of highly educated fluent second language speakers and around 100 million with an acquaintance with it that rapidly decreases from profound to cursory.

    At the top Indian English is basically a variant of British English. At the top level of novelists and journalists you’ve got a fair proportion of the best stuff written in English anywhere.

    I doubt if copy-writing will get outsourced. Despite many American copywriters’ and grammar mavens/schavens obsession with reducing language to a list of regulations, the cultural underlyings are so strong you would quickly notice.

    Indian English has long been described as a strange mix between the language of the playground and that of the minor public school. The most glorious example of this combined  was when a student at St. Thomas’s in Colombo, the most exclusive private school in Sri Lanka, introduced his father to his teacher with the words ‘This is pater bugger’.

  24. Indian says:

    @Stephen: Hah! Indeed, there are countless examples I can give you regarding the use and creative misuse of the language here! That said however, languages evolve and I must say that we’re certainly doing our bit to contribute to the English language.

    I’m not sure where you got those figures from, but yes, there are many millions of people here in small towns and villages who can’t speak English worth a damn and frankly, don’t care. But those with even a smattering of education know that with English being the de facto language of business, achieving some level of proficiency is a must if one wants to do well in the bigger towns and cities. That’s why the latest reports say that the number of kids enrolled in English-medium schools has gone up exponentially in the last few years.

    Naturally, this hasn’t gone down well with those who argue that our regional languages are being obliterated in the bargain, and they do have a valid point. India is linguistically, culturally etc. far more diverse than possibly all of Europe combined, so it would certainly be stupid to promote English at the cost of our varied languages and innumerable dialects. It’s a dilemma I guess other non-English nations are facing as well, and some compromise formula that promotes both regional languages as well as English is the need of the hour.

  25. Iain Clarke says:


    @Stephen: At the top Indian English is basically a variant of British English.

    Well, so is US english. When you can spell colour and metre properly, get back to me…



    I remember another aspect of english from my time in Kerala. I was told that Hindi belongs to one "group" of Indians, so other groups took offence to being forced to use it. Whereas English belonged to no particulr group, and was more acceptable as an inter-indian language.

    This is hearsay, but makes sense to me at least!


  26. Indian says:

    @Iain: Your colourful comment above really made me laugh, for American spelling is a pet peeve of mine as well. I always used to have trouble with programming as I invariably used to forget to misspell colour! Over the years of course I trained myself to misspell certain words *only* while coding and nowhere else. :)

    Regarding the protests against Hindi, yes they did take place and there are occasional rumblings in the southern/eastern states even now. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Hindi_agitations for more.

Comments are closed.

Skip to main content