Sign Up For Our Free Grammar E-Newsletter

Spell Check Overreach

My spell check has been drinking again. It just told me “déjà vu” should be “deejay.”

Everyone who uses Word software probably has some form of spell check. Mine — I call him “SC” — also makes occasionally helpful (but often just surreal) suggestions about grammar and punctuation. To be fair, SC sometimes saves me from my own carelessness. But all in all, I think I’d rather get dating tips from a praying mantis.

For less-experienced writers, spell check is a mushroom in the woods: be careful what you swallow. I once typed “public enemies” and SC wanted “enemy’s.” Nouns ending in y are tricky enough without bogus advice from a clueless tool. It pains me to think of all the insecure people who follow blindly.

SC is no panacea to grammar-challenged Americans. He changed “how is it possible” to “how it possible is,” and “all of the above” became “the entire above.”

The word snarky, referring to a snide attitude, has been in popular usage for a long time. But no one told SC, who thinks my hand slipped while I was trying to type “snaky” or “snarly.” Come to think of it, those two words pretty much sum up snarky. But that’s beside the point.

Another familiar term is “A-lister”: someone who’s show-business royalty. SC doesn’t get out much, so he thinks I must mean “lifter” or “luster” or “blister” — or even “leister,” which is a three-pronged fishing spear. That’s no way to describe Angelina Jolie!

And it’s not just trendy words that SC botches. The French word chez, referring to home or headquarters, has been prevalent in English usage since the early 18th century. So why does SC think I mean either a revolutionary (“Che”), a singer (“Cher”) or some bloke named “Chet”?

For several decades, Luddite has been a handy word for someone who rejects or is confounded by modern technology: “I’m such a Luddite I can’t program my DVR.” You’d think SC could do better than “landsite” or “audited.”

Clearly, at this point, spell check is too erratic. The irony is that it’s least valuable to those who need it most.

(This tip was contributed by veteran copy editor Tom Stern.)

Posted on Tuesday, September 25, 2012, at 1:42 pm


4 Comments

4 Responses to “Spell Check Overreach”

  1. David A. says:

    Jane, please get rid of the tasteless double underlines. They serve only to irritate the reader while perhaps generating a little income for you. I make a point of not revisiting sites with them. Why should yours be different?

    • Jane says:

      I am sorry this irritates you. You are right that these double underlines as well as the advertising on the site generate a little income. Without this income I would not be able to provide and maintain a free website that I hope is a valuable and lively learning resource for everyone.

  2. Dave T. says:

    Have you or anyone looked at the proper “grammar” that governs the use of Emoticons? I tried fighting their use in my children’s writing but I cannot fight all of society.

    • Jane says:

      Well, you won’t be fighting us in regard to this topic. Emoticons have no place in proper grammar or formal writing. The following entry is from the Q&A section of The Chicago Manual of Style:

      Q. My question is, is there any standard for the usage of emoticons? In particular, is there an accepted practice for the use of emoticons that include an opening or closing parenthesis as the final token within a set of parentheses? Should I (1) incorporate the emoticon into the closing of the parentheses (giving a dual purpose to the closing parenthesis, such as in this case. :-) (2) simply leave the emoticon up against the closing parenthesis, ignoring the bizarre visual effect of the doubled closing parenthesis (as I am doing here, producing a doubled-chin effect :-)) (3) put a space or two between the emoticon and the closing parenthesis (like this: :-) ) (4) or avoid the situation by using a different emoticon (Some emoticons are similar. :-D), placing the emoticon elsewhere, or doing without it (i.e., reword to avoid awkwardness)?

      A. Until academic standards decline enough to accommodate the use of emoticons, I’m afraid CMOS is unlikely to treat their styling, since the manual is aimed primarily at scholarly publications. And the problems you’ve posed in this note give us added incentive to keep our distance. (But I kind of like that double-chin effect.)

Leave a Reply