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 Tom Stern classic was originally published in September 2012.)

Posted on Wednesday, February 1, 2017, at 3:59 pm

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4 Comments on Spell Check Overreach

4 responses to “Spell Check Overreach”

  1. Tebi says:

    Hi I need help in am stuck with my daughters home work . I am new with english She’s been asked to use some adjectives? They are for words on different bosses. First is :Characters, setting,problem and solutions/fix .
    Can you help me please?

  2. Sandra M. says:

    I hate spell check. I have SC turned off on everything that I own that has the feature. I have enough trouble with my older brain without a “robot” helping me down what I call the “idiot path.” And, I don’t own a “smart phone.” :-)

  3. Robert M. says:

    Before spell check, we had secretary check. I wrote a piece saying a variable was exogenously determined. She typed that it was erogenously determined. Everyone wanted to work on that project.

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