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Where Siri’s offensive dictionary definition came from


By now, we’re all aware of Siri’s often sassy nature. But Apple’s personal assistant has recently come under fire for one dictionary entry.

Specifically, one definition was discovered by Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson and was quickly deemed offensive. After giving the biological definition of the word “bitch” (a female dog), Siri declares the word is also “black slang” for a woman.

First off, it’s not just Siri. Apple’s built in dictionary in OS X El Capitan and Yosemite also surfaces the definition. Google, which has displayed word definitions in search results for years, also turned up the same thing — but the company appears to have now changed the search results. The definition no longer appeared in Google searches at the time of writing Thursday evening, although it appeared earlier in the day. Apple and Google didn’t respond to Mashable’srequest for comment on the matter.

Both companies appear to be pulling their definitions from the New Oxford American Dictionary. But when you check Oxford’s online dictionary, it lists the “a woman” definition with a tag that says “offensive.” The Kindle version of the New Oxford American Dictionary also leaves it out the “black slang” moniker. So what gives?



First, some context. If the definitions are coming from Oxford, which it appears they are, both Apple and Google are likely using Oxford’s Dictionaries API, a software layer that allows app developers to tap into the company’s dictionary data. By using Oxford’s API though, developers are forced to rely on the data Oxford University Press provides, which may not be updated at the same time or fashion that it updates its other databases.

A look at Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, which shows older versions of websites, shows that Oxford’s entry for “bitch” listed the offensive definition at one time. That would suggest that while the company has since updated its entry, its Dictionaries API hasn’t pulled the updated definition.

A representative for Oxford University Press, the dictionary’s publisher, didn’t immediately respond to Mashable’s request for comment on the matter.

Although an outdated API hardly justifies the definition,

the issue underscores why it’s useful for Apple and Google and other developers to clearly show where their data is coming from. Both companies partner with a range of other organizations to make data more easily via search. But while it’s convenient to, say, ask Siri or Google for a definition, rather than looking it up, this can present other issues.

Unlike results from a typical web search, word definitions (and other data, like sports scores) are presented as canonical information — the answer you are seeing is presented as thecorrect answer. While this typically isn’t problematic for things like sports scores, it can confuse users who assume the developer (Apple and Google, in this case) is the source of the information. As such, Apple and Google should assume more responsibility for the information they surface to users.

Notably, this isn’t the first time Apple has come under fire for something Siri has said. As Micpoints out, Siri offered an offensive definition for the word “retard” in 2013, and earlier this year the Russian version of Siri responded negatively to queries with word “gay” and “lesbian” in them. In both cases, Apple eventually corrected the offending responses.

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