Here’s an appropriate follow-up to my last post, which involved a less blatant (in fact, barely noticeable except to copy editors) overlooked typo; this one is more, um, in-your-face. has the following tale of an invasion of sea sponges:

Spell-checking on his computer is never going to be the same for Santa Cruz solo practitioner Arthur Dudley.
In an opening brief to San Francisco’s 1st District Court of Appeal, a search-and-replace command by Dudley inexplicably inserted the words “sea sponge” instead of the legal term “sua sponte,” which is Latin for “on its own motion.”
“Spell check did not have sua sponte in it,” said Dudley, who, not noticing the error, shipped the brief to court.
That left the justices reading — and probably laughing at — such classic statements as: “An appropriate instruction limiting the judge’s criminal liability in such a prosecution must be given sea sponge explaining that certain acts or omissions by themselves are not sufficient to support a conviction.”
And: “It is well settled that a trial court must instruct sea sponge on any defense, including a mistake of fact defense.”…
Dudley corrected the error in his reply brief, telling the court that a “glitch” caused the weird wording and instructing that “where the phrase ‘sea sponge’ is found, this court should insert the phrase ‘sua sponte.'”
The faux pas has made Dudley the butt of some mild ribbing around Santa Cruz. Local attorneys, he said, have started calling his unique defense the “sea sponge duty to instruct.”

Thanks go to Nick for the link.


  1. Janet Egan says

    Hmm, the first suggestion the Word spellchecker shows for sua is “sue” not “sea”. Sea is the second choice, so he had to have somehow chosen it. The default auto-correct settings do automatically change sponte to sponge though. Maye Sue Sponge is a relative of Sponge Bob Squarepants.
    Have you invented a word for “typos” introduced by spellcheck and autocorrect yet? Clearly one is needed.

  2. How about “checko?”

  3. Word-turds. The W is always capitalized.

  4. Heh–your front page’s ICBM header places you in Long Island Sound somewhere, not New England 🙂

  5. has to be a Latin or Greek word, like “iatrogenic”.

  6. Man, how do you say spelling-checker in Latin? Um… if I were at a Latin Conventiculum and needed to say it, I would probably resort to recensorium (roughly “editing machine” or “editing tool”), or perhaps programma orthographicum (the meaning of which should be transparent). Neither of which, I think, is all that great.
    Of course if we want it to end with -genic, then it should be Greek. Anyone know what people call spelling checkers in Modern Greek?
    Not sure a highfallutin word is called for though. Maybe something meta, where we coin a word, then run it through the spelling checker.

  7. On that note, I should mention that when I see this I think of a certain thing that the Romans used sponges for. So to say that the prosecution must be given sea sponge implies to me that they need a roll of toilet paper. The rest of the routinie writes itself!

  8. Andrew Dunbar says

    Hmm, the first suggestion the Word spellchecker shows for sua is “sue” not “sea”. Sea is the second choice, so he had to have somehow chosen it.
    Based, of course, on the assumption that Microsoft has a monopoly on word processing applications. Which I believe it recently proved in court that it didn’t.
    I had heard some years ago that in the law field Wordperfect was used though that may well have changed more recently.
    Also, note that MS does not develop the spell checkers for most languages, they are all developed by third parties and used by MS under contract. I’m not certain whether they develop the English version though. Too bad their spell-check API is under all manner of secrecy or we could make a fantastic new Open Source replacement.

  9. I know I shouldn’t keep saying this, but everything MS does is in some important way fucked up. Gates does it on purpose because he can.

  10. spamit135 says

    I made an error typing elected ‘representative’ and Word came up with ‘reprehensive’. I am sure this is a much more accurate description.

  11. You probably know the well-known spellcheck error Cupertino (for cooperation, often mis-typed as cooperatino), which I have seen in official EU documents; but the best I ever came across was a report stating that “Albania was very interested in concluding a customs copulation agreement”! The author, who is a native Spanish-speaker, claims she typed “coperation” and got this from spellcheck.

  12. Another possibility: Dudley misspelled sua sponte in his original draft. For example, if he’d spelled it “sei sponte,” the spell checker would’ve corrected it to “sea sponge.” Even more likely, he misspelled it as “sea sponte.” The spell checker missed the actual misspelling altogether, and hypercorrected the correct word.
    I don’t know that there’s a word for this, but I have noticed that when otherwise smart people misspell a word, they do it consistently. (Twenty-odd years ago, I wrote a college paper about a “dilemna.” I still burn with shame.)

  13. “Sea” is the first suggested replacement for “sua” by WordPerfect’s spellchecker.
    “Sue” is, believe it or not, the twentieth.

  14. Do I sense a little Dragon-breath, which is what texts smell like when they’ve been dictated into a computer and not yet read over by a human.
    I’ve come across lettuce in legal documents with that scent. I’m sure they didn’t mean “lettuce reconvene tomorrow” or “the rolls will be reveresed in tomorrow’s hearing”… …they couldn’t!

  15. I’ve just posted on the Language Log about the Cupertino effect. Thanks for the tip, qaminante. And your colleague who wrote about the “customs copulation agreement” wasn’t alone– see the update to the post for such gems as “the pan-european system of diagonal copulation”!

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