Monday, September 24, 2012

Always use your spell checker, but always check your spell checker

Automated spell-checking now shows up in more places than just word processing software. It's part of web browsers, blogging software, email, Photoshop, Excel, InDesign and who knows what else. Maybe it's even in games.

A spell checker will usually — but not always — spot an improperly spelled word. It may or may not 'notice' an improperly spelled proper name. It may 'insist' that the capital letter in the middle of a proper name like "LeBron" should be lowercase. It may 'suggest' that "LeBron" should really be "Lebanon." It may 'complain' when you use a British version of an English word, like "neighbour." 

Worst of all, a spell checker won’t spot a wrong word that’s spelled correctly. Unless you have a good grammar checker (there is no perfect grammar checker), your computer may not notice typing errors like the "an" that should be "and."

Microsoft Word noticed the error in "I can see for miles an miles" -- but not the error in "I like lox an bagels." When I typed "I applied to Lehigh an Bucknell," Word wrongly suggested that "an" should be "a" and "Bucknell" should be "Bicknell or "Becknell."

In the surprise bestseller, Go the F*ck to Sleep, Adam Mansbach wrote, “The lambs have laid down with the sheep.”
• “Laid” is spelled correctly, but the correct word is “lain.”

In The Successful Writer’s Handbook, Patricia L. Fry wrote, “One writer I know had a cubical constructed in her garage to use as an office.”
• “Cubical” is spelled correctly, but the correct word is “cubicle.”

In Best in Self-Publishing & Print-on-demand, David Rising wrote, “for all participates.”
• “Participates” is not a spelling error; it’s the wrong word. “Participants” was the right word, but the spell-checking robot didn’t realize it.

In Release Your Writing, Helen Gallagher wrote, “They work is not cheap . . . .” 
• “They” is spelled correctly. Unfortunately, the correct word is “Their.”

In an early version of one of my books, I typed “The photographer will be thrilled to have a subject who does not vomit on her, or require funny faces to illicit a smile.”
• “Illicit is a properly spelled but incorrect word. The correct word is “elicit.” Editor Sheila M. Clark caught the error.

While you can’t rely 100% on a spell checker, you should use it.

In Principles of Self Publishing, Theresa A. Moore wrote about an alleged “exhorbitant shipping fee” The fee was actually reasonable, but the spelling is not. There is no “h” in “exorbitant.”

A spell checker would have caught the error.

Theresa wrote, “I don't use the spell checker. I use a dictionary. Oxford American. The standard spelling I learned had an ‘h.’”

She probably was taught properly, but doesn't remember what she was taught, and may have confused “exorbitant” with “exhort.” She also misspelled “propaganda.”

Ironically, Theresa says, “a misspelled word can stand out like a red flag in a cornfield” and “It is vitally important for you to have a clear grasp of spelling . . . .” She’s right about that.

It’s good to have a dictionary, but unless you’re unsure about a word, you won’t check it. A spell checker, while imperfect, is on duty even when you have no doubt.

(Graphic image from Thanks.)

1 comment:

  1. I donut nead a speel cheeker. I cna pell reel god.