Monday, April 25, 2011

Spell(check) carefully

A friend of mine hates spell check, and I've become a little leery of it myself.

Lee's problem happened more than a decade ago. He sent in his auto-racing copy with several unusual names prominently featured. Some brain on the sports desk spell-checked the story and accidentally changed the names of three men to something the spell check liked.

In fact, I just tried spell check on several drivers of the era, and Dale Earnhardt became Dale Barnhart, Hut Stricklin turned into Hut Strickland, and Greg Biffle became Greg Baffle. Close, but no cigar.

Spell check almost spelled disaster for me at least once when I was editing a book. I inadvertently changed a word — not a name, thankfully — and managed to catch it in time. Actually, I've probably done that dozens of times; I was just aware of it then.

It wasn't much help with grammar, and it kept telling me that their was correct when I knew it should be there.

The worst thing about spell check is that you can use a real word out of context, and spell check won't get it. Write e-male, and spell check passes it. Write incontinence instead of inconvenience, and that passes, too. Of course, incontinence can often be inconvenient, and apparently spell check understands.

Say wear house instead of warehouse, and, yes, it passes spell check's muster, too. Same with undertaker instead of undertaken. They're real words, and spell check doesn't know they shouldn't be there.

My spell check accepted "add-hoc," when "ad hoc" is correct.

Look at this sentence that I found online: Is it jest a myth that hour frost precedent shopped dawn a cheery tree? All of the words are spelled correctly, but it makes no sense. And spell check is no help at all.

A good editor would catch the misshapen sentence (hopefully), and change it to this: Is it just a myth that our first president chopped down a cherry tree?

I've heard people say that grammar and spelling programs are meant to help writers and editors, not solve their problems. Maybe they do.

But be careful; use spell check at your own risk.


(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
(the book of great NASCAR stories)

More blog entries by Tom Gillispie

Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie

1 comment:

  1. You are absolutely right to be wary of spell checkers. The cherry tree example seems also to illustrate a related problem - that of the incompletely set up speech-to-text program. I'm sure that I'm seeing more and more of this sort of thing, especially in emails. And emails don't matter, of course, do they? Just dictate, spell check and hit send. Never mind that the message is unintelligible.