The PC that isn't PC is lost for words

Click to follow
Bill Gates' company Microsoft has been forced to perform a humiliating U-turn after Spanish users of the computer giant's Windows 95 dictionary attacked it as racist, fascist, sexist and offensive.

The company has suffered a deluge of complaints in recent weeks from customers who have been angered by a plethora of outdated and insulting definitions. According to the magazine Computer Weekly, the word "lesbian" is defined as "perverted and vicious" while "homosexual" is described as merely "perverted and deviant".

Suggested alternatives for "woman" do not even include "human being" or "persons". The dictionary does, however, suggest "doncella", which means servant or virgin, "Senorita", the Spanish for "Miss", Venus and Eve.

Indigenous peoples around the world also get a rough ride. Alternative words include cannibal, savage, barbarian and kaffir, alongside aborigine, Indian and Bedouin. In contrast a "Westerner" gets a glowing, if sexist, description that includes "a European man, Aryan, white, civilised and cultured".

The Human Rights Association of Andalucia in southern Spain was one of the first to lodge a formal complaint with Microsoft, calling the definitions racist and sexist. Newspapers such as El Pais then took up the issue and Microsoft launched a damage-limitation exercise.

Bill Gates, who is one of the United States' richest men, is acutely conscious of his public image and he is keen to be seen as a progressive.

A Microsoft spokeswoman in the company's European head office in Ireland said yesterday: "Its not that Spanish dictionary thing again, is it? We are very aware of the problem. We are in the process of correcting it. We welcome any input from customers in compiling the new dictionary."

A Spanish linguist has been hired and the new dictionary has been prepared in just over a week since the scandal broke. However, local critics complain that it still does not contain any Andalucian or Catalan dialect synonyms for everyday words.

Microsoft claims that the original errors must have been caused by the use of an old dictionary in compilation. But this excuse is of little comfort to teachers and parents who say that millions of youngsters have already been able to access the offensive words.