Monday, May 18, 2009

Cupertino Who?

(screen shot from

In publicizing the cancellation of the ABC show 'Samantha Who' (NOTE the network, kids, it becomes critical...), the famed entertainment industry mag Variety published a brief story rife with typos and bizarre errors, but in particular one jumped out at me:

ABC had been mulling a plan to decrease “Samantha’s” budget by changing the way the show is shot -- moving from single-cam to a multicamera format. Alphabet was looking to slash as much as $500,000 per episode from the show’s budget.

I highlighted in blue the strange error. It appears as though the network name 'ABC' has been miscorrected to 'Alphabet' (see Language Log's extensive discussions of this phenomenon they have called the Cupertino Effect, for example here as well as Ben Zimmer's discussion here).

Upon first glance, this makes some sense, right? 'ABC' is a common way to refer to the Romanized alphabet ("do you know your ABCs" one might ask a child). But what is truly perplexing is the randomness of the effect. The string 'ABC' occurs 5 times (including the title) and the string 'alphabet' occurs twice. As far as I can tell, there is no consistent context causing this. The first example of 'alphabet' occurs at the beginning of a sentence as a bare noun, and there are 4 examples of 'ABC' occuring in this context (including the title). The second example occurs in a definite NP headed by 'the' while the string 'ABC' does not occur in this context.

If you can find a triggering context, please let me know. Your guess is as good as mine...

UPDATE: myl makes a critical point in the comments that this is an inside joke at Variety and not a Cupertino, then I wonder what the joke context is, just fyi, ya know...too much color?


myl said...

I believe that this is a stock Variety joke (search their site for "alphabet" to see many other examples) rather than a Cupertino.

Chris said...

Interesting...I'll take a look. Thanks!

Chris said...

myl, I did the 'alphabet' search on and you're clearly right, it's a recurring joke. But I'm still a tad confused about the context in which they choose to use the substitution.

I fear a repeat of Syntax 1 homework. I'm gonna have to list a lot of sentences and start "forming generalizations." As my first Syntax teacher Van taught me, "line up the data such that the answer jumps out at you."


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