Is Apple using the Dictionary Widget to push liberal politics? - Macenstein

Is Apple using the Dictionary Widget to push liberal politics?

Posted by Dr. Macenstein

Probably not.

But faithful Macenstein reader Skeezo sent in an interesting link to forum posting over at It seems if one types in the word “Democracy” into Mac OS X’s built-in Dictionary widget, and then switches over to the thesaurus, you are given the following example usage of the word:

Democracy (noun)

a democracy in Iraq is quite unlikely for now or any time soon

Whether or not you feel the thesaurus may be technically correct, you must admit it certainly seems like a unnecessarily politically charged and topical choice of phrase to use.

Now, as for whether this is Apple’s doing, or the doing of New Oxford American Dictionary (who supposedly supplies all the definitions used in Apple’s Dictionary widget) is unknown, as there is no other online version of the New Oxford American Dictionary we can use to compare with the widget’s results (Apple secured an exclusive digital deal with the company in 2005). We have sent out an e-mail to Oxford University Press to see if they can clarify the origin of the line.

This is slightly reminiscent of the “Miserable failure” search result Google provided a few years back. If one typed in the words “Miserable failure” on Google’s homepage and then hit the “I’m feeling lucky” button they were taken to George W. Bush’s webpage.

Apple’s programmers have a long history of including easter eggs in various apps for the very bored to find, and it looks like there’s a chance this may be yet another. Thanks Skeezo!

25 Responses to “Is Apple using the Dictionary Widget to push liberal politics?”
  1. Astromacman says:

    The New Oxford American Dictionary is a gem. I’ve been testing dictionaries for the Palm and have become quite interested in the quality, definitions, etymologies, etc. NOAD is the best I’ve found–especially user-friendly, useful, informative, with good examples.

    Mac users are really lucky to have it shipping with their OS X!

    Now, I know less about the thesaurus, although it, too, is helpful and useful.

    What you want to look for is NOT NOAD on line, but the Oxford American Thesaurus.

    You could also follow up by contacting Oxford– or by asking your readers to check out local bookstores, Barnes & Noble carries the thesaurus, AFAIK, but not the dictionary. Someone could report back, though I suppose your own exploration would carry even more merit.

    Intriguing tidbit– you could probably determine its pedigree by the copyright date on the thesaurus–although the 2nd ed. of NOAD is 2005, which does allow for the possibility that the thesaurus was published after the U.S. invaded Iraq– oh wait, I should say was greeted as liberators–not that’s not quite right–oh, yeah, when the U.S., a la Wilson, made the world safe for democracy– AGAIN! 🙂

  2. Mart says:

    My God, the children, won’t someone please think of the children? How is it politically charged to say a democracy is unlikely in a country that’s being blown up every single day? Someone’s been drinking Kool-Aid…

  3. Lynn Shanee says:

    Nah, just paranoid conservatives, jumping at every perceived slight. Imagine that, George (dumberthandirt) Bush’s little war didn’t go quite like the neocons told him it would.

  4. Dan says:

    I think this is a subversive attempt to push reality onto an unsuspecting public in order to twist the minds of the innocent.

  5. DBL says:

    This statement is incontrovertibly true — therefore, by the definition of truth (look it up while you’re there), it cannot be biased.

  6. fustian says:

    Of course it is political, and political where it doesn’t need to be.

    It’s so typical of leftist, racist, intolerance that they believe democracy is not possible in Iraq. Is it because they aren’t white enough?

    Also typical of the left that they demonise the right rather than engage them on the merits. Thus Bush, a graduate of both Yale and Harvard is the moron, while Gore, who flunked out of divinity school, is some kind of intellectual. They even managed to make the best athlete ever to be President, Jerry Ford, into some kind of stumblebum.

    Perhaps the thesaurus should have said:

    …instead of a democracy in Iraq, we will certainly see a bloodbath if the democrats get their way…

    I hope no paranoid leftists, taking issue with every perceived slight, would have the slightest trouble with that Thesaurus entry.

  7. Gospel Moody says:

    Obviously, from the above posts, liberals’ minds have become so narrow from their self-imposed mental vise-grips that they can’t see the big picture any more. Or even the mid-sized picture. Or even the slightly-bigger-than-absolute-zero picture.

  8. Rush's Cyst says:

    Even accurate statements, such as this one, may be politically charged. If rabid Faux News people got ahold of it, they’d foam at the mouth (of course, they do that hourly anyway). We’re Winning in Iraq! More dead brown people == winning. More dead American soldiers == winning. Yay Democracy! Yay Amerika! Go Chimpy go!

  9. Nick says:

    I don’t see that the statement is “liberal”. Political philosophers would tell you that liberalism is an ideology that exalts personal freedom and that has attempted to draw precise limits to the exercise of state power through theory. I think it has become pretty clear, bearing in mind all the philosophical effort that has been expended on that problem since the 17th century, that theory cannot deliver on that hope. And where Locke and Mill have failed, Rawls is not likely to succeed.

    Be that as it may, the definition isn’t to do with political freedom but with “democracy” (understood here not as rule by the people, which is what the Greek literally meant but “representative government”). You can have a democracy where there is not much freedom; and you can have a great degree of freedom where there is not a universal plebiscite.

    The definition is not to do with freedom; still less, does it recommend a stance towards it.

    All it is doing is giving an example phrase to help a reader to understand the usage of the word.

    FWIW, I’d certainly would agree with the phrase, and I’d most certainly *not* wish to be described as “liberal”, since I believe that viewpoint is limited. The only political faction who might be offended here are people who are so hung up on the idea of democracy as to believe it cannot possibly fail anywhere.

    But whether one agrees with the judgment expressed in the phrase or not is irrelevant: it’s still an example of the use of the word even if you don’t.

    Nothing to see here.

  10. Richard says:

    Of course it’s political.
    Of course it doesn’t belong there.
    Of course it’s true.
    Chum for the right-wingers.
    A laugh for the lefties.
    And the world spins on…

  11. frgough says:

    Looks like some political agenda at work. The current government of Iraq was popularly elected, and it’s Contitution ratified by popular vote. Iraq has a president, prime minister and parliament in place and functioning, all put in by popular vote.

    Iraq is currently more democratic than Russia with about the same level of corruption.

    A country does not cease to be democratic because a neighboring, hostile nation is covertly fomenting terrorist attacks against its civilian population and ally.

    Leftists will tell you in a loud voice about their powerful intellects and deep thoughtful inquiry of issues as they parrot off various propaganda talking points with glazed over eyes.

  12. Jim says:

    Yes, of course it’s politically charged. It’s just another example of the vast left-wing conspiracy to inject liberal bias into every last aspect of the media. The dictionary is the final frontier of conservative bashing. Of course, Apple, being the vanguard that it is, stands at the forefront of this charge.

    What rubbish.
    Oh yes, and to fustian: your statement is so full of blatant irony, it’s ridiculous.

    Of course it is political, and political where it doesn’t need to be. It’s so typical of leftist, racist, intolerance that they believe democracy is not possible in Iraq. Is it because they aren’t white enough? Also typical of the left that they demonise the right rather than engage them on the merits.

    This just cracks me up.

  13. rjschwarz says:

    Liberal or not, right or wrong, it seems stupid to use the opposite as an example and a subject that will will become yesterdays topic/issue rather soon.

  14. Scott says:

    They just use Iraq cause it is more current…if this was the 70s it would say Vietnam

  15. I love controversy says:

    I don’t know Scott,

    To me, they could have used Lybia, North Korea, or Cuba as an example that would be more fitting, with a well known in-power dictator. there is no reason to use Iraq as an example unless you are trying to stir the pot. Like many have said, Iraq’s a democracy now, and has been for a couple years. I’m not in any way saying it is a working and successful democracy, but it is a bad example for them to use.

    Macenstein, I would be interested to see if Oxford replies. I would love to know if this is on their end (which I think is likely) or Apple.

    Keep us posted!

  16. Ben says:

    No harm done. What are the chances that a conservative would even be looking up the meaning of Democracy?

  17. levi civita says:

    However you would not mind at all if this dictionary presents the ultra-reactionary garbage from encyclopedia “totally irrelevant” britannica, would you?

  18. Ian O says:

    I’m amazed at just how politically polarised Americans are. The supported party are always God’s gift to humanity, the opposition always a bunch of degenerate cretins. It scares me to think that the world’s largest stockpile of nukes is in the hands of people who see everything in intense black and white.

  19. teece says:

    Apple does not write that dictionary — Oxford does. So “Apple” can not be the bogey man in this imagined liberal-bias idiocy in question.

  20. teece says:

    “Macenstein, I would be interested to see if Oxford replies. I would love to know if this is on their end (which I think is likely) or Apple.”

    That’s just silly. Apple DID NOT write this dictionary or the thesaurus. I guarantee it. Writing such reference works is very laborious, very specialized, and way outside Apple’s area.

    Oxford wrote that line (or someone Oxford hired). Period.

    There is no doubt. It takes years to make a real dictionary or thesaurus. Folks like Oxford and AmHer and Webster’s made their core dictionaries years ago, and merely maintain and expand them now.

    (And the point of thesaurus quotes is to show current usage. NOAD is a dictionary that sells itself as VERY current, so they almost certainly chose Iraq in that sentence because of it’s currency.)

  21. fustian says:


    Of course my statement was ridiculous. I was imitating what passes for lefty reasoning. Your own writing is similarly ridiculous.

    But I was being ridiculous on purpose to make a point.

    Apparently, you’re still not catching on.

    Maybe if we try to address you guys in your own language, you can understand better.

    When you take a safe place like a thesaurus and assualt us with your liberal propaganda in a context in which we expect dispassionate fact, we feel violated. It’s harassment to not allow us to enjoy the diversity of our own opinions in a simple reference work. We want a thesaurus with example sentences that looks like America. Our experience tells us that liberals in positions of power at Thesaurus companies rape our vocabulationist sensibilities with their hate speech. Who are you to tell us that our experience is less valid than yours, dude. You’ve got real anger issues. Perhaps some diversity training or a consciousness raising circle would improve your karma.

    Does that help a little Jim?

    I think what offends me the most about the Iraq propaganda in the Thesaurus was how heavy handed and obvious it was. And as frgough points out, it’s not even true.

  22. sid says:

    Politically charged? I’m not sure. Maybe more like a hope. If democracy comes to Iraq, it will probably mean a theocracy with civil law based on Sharia. That would not be so good for
    women, gays, non-muslims, etc.

  23. imajoebob says:

    I enjoy political discussion as much as (more than?) the next guy. But I come to sites like yours to get a break from it. Whattya say you just leave the post, but kill and close the comments? Give us all a bit of a break, and when we’re ready we can go back to Daily Kos and Politico.

  24. Andrew says:

    Erm… my dictionary widget doesn’t spit out that definition, or anything remotely like it. Since that screen only has one of the many definitions given, and since it doesn’t have a pronunciation guide, I’m going to have to say that is fake.

  25. init says:

    Andrew, it DOES indeed display that line. After you type in Democracy, you need to hit the word THESAURUS on the widget. then you’ll see it. At least on my computer.

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