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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
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.)
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