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In Canada, a week or so ago, a teenage girl opened a bottle of Vitamin Water (owned by Coca-Cola) and discovered these words printed on the cap.

YOU RETARD (here's a link to a picture of the cap).

She took a picture of it and showed to her father, who immediately contacted the media and wrote to the company. The girl has two younger sisters (age 11), both disabled, one of whom has Cerebral Palsey and is significantly delayed in a number of ways.

An explanation has now emerged.

The messages were part of a Coke promotion in Canada that randomly paired English and French words that together were supposed to make up funny gibberish phrases. But the words were only vetted in French, not English.

“Retard” in French means “late.” But Doug Loates, who does not speak French, didn’t see the humor.

Is what we have here an example of the problems of randomized computer-generated promotions Is this another example of failure related to the exclusion of the human element? Would a real human scanning the list have caught it? Coke's answer is not clear.

What does it mean to vet them in French but not English? Was there an actual human who sat down with all the words and read them and just skipped over "retard" as "non-offensive?" Or did they run some kind of script to check for offensive words and "retard" passed? If an actual human was involved, were they just unaware of the double English/French meaning to "retard" or did they just not care?

The relevant Coke VP says:

“We have learned from this and it was a mistake,” he said. “At no point in time did we intend on offending anyone by any stretch and we have cancelled and moved on and have dealt with this as soon as possible.

I believe him that no one meant any offense. But I wonder what, exactly, they have "learned." Have they learned to be careful with their tech? Have they learned something about offensive speech? Have they developed "awareness?"

Hopefully, they've learned just to pay a little closer attention to language, because you never know who is going to open your bottle and read the cap.

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Comment Preferences

  •  What (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eyesbright, thomask, howabout, suesue

    are the odds? srsly

    And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County Down by the Green River where Paradise lay. Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away. John Prine

    by high uintas on Wed Sep 25, 2013 at 09:52:36 AM PDT

  •  Human element was missing (9+ / 0-)

    The computer generated a list of English words, all of which were non-offensive as English words.  The computer then generated a list of French words, all of which were non-offensive as French words.

    The program did not check to ensure that the English words generated might also constitute a word in French, nor did it check to ensure that the French words generated (one of which was retard, which means late in French) might also constitute a word in English.  This is what they mean by saying the words were only vetted in one language, not both.

    I think they learned that IT programmers are not going to catch things like this - you have to be specific in your instructions as to what you want.  It's basically the old garbage in - garbage out adage: their input instructions were missing a key element that the words needed to be checked for potential meaning in BOTH languages, so they got garbage out in the form of a bottlecap with the words "you retard".

    Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear. ~William E. Gladstone, 1866

    by absdoggy on Wed Sep 25, 2013 at 10:02:36 AM PDT

  •  I hope the people who got upset learned (5+ / 0-)

    that sometimes there's an innocent explanation for something that seems offensive, and it's a good idea to find out what's going on before blowing a gasket.

  •  I actually knew this one (4+ / 0-)

    Airbus, being mostly a French aircraft will display "RETARD" on the displays when it's moving (or wants you to move) the thrust levers to idle.

    We'd always joke "Hey! The plane's calling me names again!"

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Wed Sep 25, 2013 at 10:24:23 AM PDT

  •  To which I'd say: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe

    "No, I advance".
    Back in the last millenium, I fixed foreign cars (mostly English). They had this funny looking part with a bunch of wires coming out of it called a distributor. Depending on the precise position of the distributor, the engine would run well or not. Turn the distributor one way or the other to advance or retard the ignition.

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Wed Sep 25, 2013 at 11:04:24 AM PDT

  •  Sheet music tells me to retard all the time (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe

    Stupid composers using Italian to tell me to slow down the tempo. English publishers should use English markings, dagnabit.

    Telling the company is a good thing. It allows them to investigate and make necessary changes going forward. Being offended by an obvious coincedence and running to the media is not helpful.

    •  "Helpful" (0+ / 0-)

      My agenda is to spread awareness about the use of this word and why people find it objectionable. Hence, it's plenty helpful.

      •  But it was not English. It was French. (0+ / 0-)

        My sheet music example is Italian. The Airbus example is also French.

        Should I claim that someone was threatening to poison me because they said they were going to give me a gift while in Berlin?

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