Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Dictionary Publisher Apologizes, Recalls Tainted Work

PeoplePowerPress today recalled millions of copies of its “Standard Thesaurus and Universal People’s Dictionary”, announcing that problems in editing the innovative new reference book had led to scores of errors, libels, and omissions in the work, the most famous of which were a photograph of the 110th congress next to the entry for the word “Incompetent” and a photograph of President Bush next to the word “Asshole”.

The company said through a press release that “We tried to launch something that was new, innovative, and creative in the way that it applied language as people actually speak it, instead of the way that dictionary publishers wish that we spoke it. Unfortunately, due to some pranks and less-than-ethical behavior by our editors, we were stung by the ‘Wikipedia Effect.’ We will correct these errors and have the book on the shelves by the time the new school year starts up this Fall.”

The dictionary was hailed in late 2005 as a triumph of ‘Reverse Engineering’ from what Internet sites like Wikipedia do, where scores of online editors review the thousands of articles and snippets added by users of content. PeoplePowerPresss, or PPP, had used a similar approach, asking for open submissions of word definitions that would then be verified and edited by a select team of professionals.

Unfortunately the company that PPP hired to do the editing, Tollingham-Rodgers Omnimedia Limited Liability Services, outsourced the work to college freshmen who did the bulk of reading and verifying the entries. The workforce, composed mostly of English majors and other liberal arts degrees, was blamed by Tollingham-Rodgers for the raft of misspellings and inflammatory statements.

In addition to omitting all words beginning with Q or R in the dictionary, everything for the letters M and T appeared to have been directly photocopied from a different dictionary. Other tampered entries highlighted by PPP include:

automaton: someone who works in the automobile industry
cacofonus: any music made before 1995
solder: somebody too stupid to go to college and too smart to be a criminal
utopia: Canada, where medicine is free, drugs are plentiful, and girls are easy
zebra: those guys who screw up every football game

The two sides are currently in the beginning of what promises to be a lengthy litigation, with each side blaming the other for ultimately releasing the troubled work. Fifty thousand of the dictionaries were sold, and are likely to become valuable collector’s items.

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