Why does auto-correct still stink?

January 13, 2012: 5:00 AM ET

FORTUNE -- "I find it extremely annoying," says Noam Chomsky, MIT professor and world-renowned linguist, about having his typed words automatically corrected. The most-often incorrectly corrected phrase? "When I use Orwell's term 'unpeople,'" he gripes, "it is changed to 'unpeopled.'" Most of us are probably using less erudite diction when we experience a problem, but the aggravation is still common, and Apple touch-screen devices have made the issue ubiquitous. The feature is meant to make typing easier, but often has annoying consequences. A popular web site, DamnYouAutoCorrect.com, exists solely to document the victims: "Don't worry," a woman tells a friend in one text, "He's crazy about you … you're the first girl he ever thought about the führer with." (She meant "future.")

One wonders whether a specific Apple genius is responsible, but a spokesperson says its version of the feature was refined in-house and there is no single inventor (to be blamed or praised). Apple (AAPL) does not license the feature out. It can be turned off, but that involves a few layers (go to the phone's Settings, then General, then scroll down to Keyboard and find Auto-Correction). You can also add keyboard shortcuts, such as initials for a person's name. The phone, in fact, comes preloaded with one: "omw" becomes "On my way."

To be fair, Apple did not invent the notion of correcting our typos; the auto-correct feature has existed for years on many platforms (Chomsky's complaint, in fact, is with its use in Microsoft Word (MSFT)). But the iPhone has, arguably, given auto-correct its infamy. And although Apple did not create auto-correct, it was included with the original iPhone. Yes, there are many who love the feature, and say it erases the mistakes of a fat finger. And Apple likely has no plans to stop using it. For those who continue to gripe about their text messages, the solution should be easy: try giving them a quick look before sending. --Daniel Roberts

A shorter version of this article appeared in the January 16, 2012 issue of Fortune.

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