New York Times technology writer David Pogue published a reader question in his blog and weekly e-mail today:
“Q: David: I’ve noticed this for a year, and have not been able to get Microsoft to change it: Type ‘Obama’ or ‘obama’ in Microsoft Word or Outlook, and the spelling checker recommends ‘Osama’ as the corrected spelling. How could this continue month after month, especially now that Mr. Obama is likely to be the Democratic candidate for president? Hope you can connect with appropriate folks at Microsoft and get this changed.”
Pogue replied, “A: Well, it does seem like a silly glitch. But I’m not sure even I could convince Microsoft to release a new version of Microsoft Office software just to correct a single entry in the spelling dictionary. But if it helps, here you go: How about it, Microsoft?”
I asked a Microsoft spokeswoman the same question, and, as Pogue’s commenters have already noted, newer and updated versions of Office (the software suite that includes Word and, in some versions, Outlook) recognize the word.
Here’s the official explanation via e-mail from the spokeswoman:
“Microsoft actually updates the standard dictionary regularly. The behavior was seen by the user not because there was logic in Office or the Office spell checker specifically targeted towards the word ‘Obama’ to change it to ‘Osama.’ Instead, the spell checker just didn’t have ‘Obama’ in its dictionary, so it tried to provide alternative suggestions based on closest match. The same thing happens if you type ‘Okama’ or ‘Ogama.’ We consider a number of factors when updating our content, including user feedback, frequency of the words in market area publications, and the first names of public figures whose last names have been added.”
Another solution, which many Pogue commenters suggested, is right-clicking the word the spell checker does not recognize, and then clicking Add to Dictionary.