Hitler writes dictionaries

Microsoft’s Spanish thesaurus, included in Word for Windows 6.0 in Mexico, contains some unfortunate synonyms:

  • Indian: man-eater or savage
  • Western: Aryan, white, civilized
  • Lesbian: pervert, depraved person

That would be the risk when you use a mid-1930s source document, it sounds like!

Date: Tue, 17 Sep 2002 13:42:02 +0100
From: Barbara Barrett (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected) (spam-protected)
Subject: Micro$oft’s Spanish language problems

——– Original Message ——–

Microsoft Apology for Errors in Spanish

MEXICO CITY (Reuter) – Microsoft Corp, the world’s biggest software company, apologized Friday to Mexicans for “grave errors” in its computer thesaurus that equated Indians with cannibals. Several Mexicans telephoned the company to protest after a newspaper reported Wednesday that the Spanish thesaurus included in Microsoft’s popular word processor program Word for Windows 6.0 contained some unfortunate synonyms. Used by up to 200,000 people in Mexico, a country whose population is mainly descended from Aztec and Maya Indians, the Microsoft program sugggested as alternatives for the word “Indian:” “man-eater” or “savage.” Consulted for synonyms for “Western,” the Spanish language program gave “Aryan,” “white” and “civilized.” Lesbians were equated with “pervert” and “depraved person.”

“Microsoft Mexico offers an apology to its users and to the public in general for some grave errors in the synonyms of the Microsoft Word dictionary in Spanish, whose mistaken connotations are offensive,” the company said in a full-page newspaper advertisement published Friday. Microsoft Mexico marketing manager Alejandra Calatayud said the company was dispatching a language expert next week from its software development center in Ireland to discuss changes to the thesaurus with El Colegio de Mexico, Mexico’s most august cultural body.

“We accept our responsibility and hope to have a new version of the dictionary available in about five weeks,” she told Reuters. The revised version will be made available free of charge via the Internet. Ignacio Blum, Microsoft Mexico’s product manager for office products, told Reuters that the computer thesaurus was based on existing dictionaries. “If you check these words in most dictionaries, you will find the same definitions,” he said.

Mexican politicians and intellectuals condemned the pejorative computer thesaurus anyway. “I see this as profoundly dangerous because it is a lack of respect for our dignity as Mexicans and for our indigenous roots,” said Adriana Luna, an opposition party congresswoman on the lower house’s culture committee. “We must give battle to combat this specter of conservatism and fascism which is appearing all around us” Florentino Castro, a legislator from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), was quoted as saying in the newspaper La Jornada. The English version of the Microsoft Word program does not give the same synonyms. Homosexual was equated with “gay” or “lesbian” and Indian was “cave dweller,” “ancient tribe” or “aborigine.”

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  1. Posted January 12, 2007 at 08:37 | Permalink

    The blog post is dated September 17, 2002, but didn’t this happen already in 1996? Sorry for commenting an old post, but I just wrote in my Finnish-language blog about the global dictionary cleanup operation started after the scandal.

  2. Posted January 12, 2007 at 11:52 | Permalink

    hi Mikko —

    yes, I think you’re right — it looks like it happened in 1996: http://sdnhq.undp.org/lstarch/mgrs/msg00775.html