So, Mitt Romney pulled out of the Republican presidential primary (making an ass of himself in the process), ostensibly to clear the field for John McCain to start campaigning nationally ahead of the Democrats selection of his opponent. But was Romney’s de facto endorsement tainted? Here’s a quote from that speech:

“As of today, more than 4 million people have given me their vote for president, that’s of course, less than Senator moccasin’s 4.7 million, but quite a statement nonetheless. Eleven states have given me their nod, compared to his 13. Of course, because size does matter, he’s doing quite a bit better with the number of delegates he’s got,” Romney said.


Senator Moccasin? Senator Moccasin? Did Mitt Romney just mangle John McCain’s name into a piece of footwear? Or was this an unfortunate typo that slipped into the Associated Press report that has now been transferred to newspapers across the nation?

Well, if the shoe fits. Talk about walk softly and carry a big stick, eh? Never judge a presidential candidate unil you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins?

Apparently, it’s a typo. And, intriguingly, a blogger predicted this miscue would happen:

This is a transformation of McCain’s name already predicted in this space, in Mark Liberman’s Jan. 12 post reporting on what happened when Cody Boisclair ran the names of presidential candidates through the built-in spell-checker on Mac OS X. But McCain appears correctly throughout the rest of the AP article, so there hasn’t been a global substitution of the name. And McCain is actually included in recent Microsoft Office speller dictionaries (unlike Huckabee and until very recently Obama), so it’s fair to assume this isn’t the result of a correct spelling being misrecognized.

Instead, it appears to be a case of a spelling error being miscorrected into a different word on the spell-checker’s list of suggestions. My first guess was that the reporter typed Moccain here, since that’s just one missing letter away from moccasin. As Thierry Fontenelle of the Microsoft Natural Language Group explained, deletion of one character is a pretty small “edit distance,” so moccasin is an obvious suggestion. But Steve Chrisomalis, who was one of two readers (along with Paul Justice) to email me about this, has a better candidate: Maccain, since his version of MS Word gives moccasin as the first choice and McCain as the second.

Language experts are now pouring over the remains of spell checkers as we speak to try and identify the original misspelling of McCain’s name to produce the suggested correction of “moccasin”. I’ll keep you posted as to their progress.

…or not.

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