Slur On Couch Label Blamed On Software

AP, April 19, 2007

Doris Moore was shocked when her new couch was delivered to her home with a label that used a racial slur to describe the dark brown shade of the upholstery.

The situation was even more alarming for Moore because it was her 7-year-old daughter who pointed out “n- brown” on the tag.

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The mother complained to the furniture store, which blamed the supplier, who pointed to a computer problem as the source of the derogatory label

Kingsoft Corp., a Chinese software company, acknowledged its translation program was at fault and said it was a regrettable error.

“I know this is a very bad word,” Huang Luoyi, a product manager for the Beijing-based company’s translation software, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

He explained that when the Chinese characters for “dark brown” are typed into an older version of its Chinese-English translation software, the offensive N-word description comes up.

“We got the definition from a Chinese-English dictionary. We’ve been using the dictionary for 10 years. Maybe the dictionary was updated, but we probably didn’t follow suit,” he said.

Moore, who is black, said Kingsoft’s acknowledgment of a mistake doesn’t make her feel better.

“They should know what they are typing, even if it is a software error,” she said. “In order for something to come into the country, don’t they read it first? Doesn’t the manufacturer? The supplier?”

Romesh Vanaik, owner of Vanaik Furniture where Moore bought the sofa, said it has been a best seller. He said he checked his stock but found no other couch with the offensive label.

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Huang said Kingsoft has worked to correct the translation error. In the 2007 version, typing “dark brown” in Chinese does not produce the racial slur in English. But if the offensive term is typed in English, the Chinese translation is “dark brown,” he said.

Moore is consulting with a lawyer and wants compensation. Last week, she filed a report with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Commission spokeswoman Afroze Edwards said the case is in the initial stages and could take six months to two years to resolve.

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