There/their/they’re goes the Cupertino

You won’t find it in your printed dictionaries, but the word Cupertino describes a problem which we all suffer: the automatic substitution of a correct word in a document by an incorrect (and usually wholly inappropriate) word. It’s claimed to have been coined by European Union translators, who noticed the spell-checker they were using did this to the unhyphenated form of cooperation, which was invariably changed to Cupertino. This was reported in 2006, if not before, and examples date back to the last century.

Having been struck by too many embarrassing Cupertinos in the past, I have made it my practice to disable all spell-checking wherever I can. Unfortunately, there are always places which catch me out and start mutilating my text, and one of the worst offences committed is a fundamental lack of understanding of the differences between the words there, their and they’re. I’d assumed that this was just the inherent stupidity of current spell-checkers, for example when editing this tweet in Tweetbot.


Anyone with the remotest fluency in English should recognise that the two alternative words being suggested there are a worse fit in the context, and only there comes close to being grammatical or making sense.

Originally, this article was going to lament how, over more than thirty years of the development of spell-checkers, they still can’t cope with plain English. But when I was researching solutions I stumbled across a fix, in a feature that has probably been there for much of the time. Don’t get mad with your spell-checker, train it instead.

I repeated my sample text Someone there obviously… and elicited the same annoying error, with the suggested substitutions of they’re or their. I then explored the options available to bludgeon this intransigent system into submission. With the correct but underlined there selected, I brought up the contextual menu (Control-click etc.) and macOS offered to learn my eccentric spelling. That’s quite different from adding the word to its dictionary: of course it knows the word there, but apparently considered it incorrect in that grammatical context. Unfortunately, selecting that option in the menu has quite destroyed my intended article, as the spell-checker now refuses to flag there as incorrect in any similar context. It has learned.

I feel sure that I’m the last Mac user on the planet to stumble across this obvious solution, but just in case you haven’t used it yet, I thought it might be helpful to pass on. I’m now happily enabling spell-checking on all my documents at last, as I’ve realised that, little by little, I can get my Mac to cope with English, and maybe eliminate the occasional typo which sneaks out into this glob.

Don’t get mad with your spell-checker, train it.