Spellchecker—friend or foe?

flickr.com szlea

flickr.com szlea

Spellchecker is your friend—or not. As most know if they used spell check on their documents, it is not infallible. Many horror stories exist about gaffs when using it.

One of my worst spell checking goofs I made was when I worked at United Way. Unfortunately, united is an anagram for untied. I really had to watch not to send out anything from UNTIED WAY.

A recent article in the local paper showed how using spell checker and its “suggestions” for words can come back to bite you.

The Daily Universe, the Brigham Young student newspaper, recently ran an article and picture that caused them much embarrassment.

The wording used under the picture in questions identified leaders of the Mormon Church as apostates instead of apostles.

Why is this a problem, you ask? Apostate is person who has abandoned religious faith, principle or a cause. When the copy editor ran spell check, apostate was suggested as a replacement for a misspelling of apostle. Oops! The honest mistake caused the newspaper to do lots of scrambling to recover. In the end, they had to pull thousands of issues from newsstands.

I’m sure my late grandmother, who was head proofreader at the Cedar Rapids Gazette is somewhere chuckling about this. She and my mother, who was also a proofreader at the paper, did manually what the computer spell check software do. Every day, the room full of proofreaders checked every word that was printed for style, typos and errors. Neither lived long enough to learn what a computer can do (or not do) in this regard…maybe that is a good thing.

What is your worst horror story about using spellcheck? (G-rated, please)

I am eager to hear from you.

4/23/09  Just came across an interesting site. Maybe we need spellchecker for bumperstickers and gravestones.

5/21/09  Philip B. Corbett of the N.Y. Times wrote a good column on this topic.


13 responses to “Spellchecker—friend or foe?

  1. marketingtipsforauthorsvideo

    I can’t think of a specific example yet, but I will tell you that when I misspell a word, I have an option to add it to the custom dictionary. There are no telling how many misspelled words I accidentally added to my custom dictionary because I clicked the wrong link. After much frustration, I finally found the custom dictionary file and took out the misspelled words.

    I hope I haven’t sent through misspelled words because I procrastinated in getting the problem fixed.

  2. Woody Woodward

    Have to confess, out of divine providence I think the “spellchecker” got that one right!

  3. Thanks for reading. I look forward (eagerly, not anxiously) to your examples.

  4. I wasn’t making a statement on religion. It just was an interesting article.

  5. Woody Woodward

    You weren’t but I was! Glad you posted my comment. TRUTH must be heard!

  6. As I understand it, the only soul that can go to hell in the LDS faith is an apostate. Everyone else can be redeemed eventually.

  7. Cat– I was certainly not thinking of making this post a Mormon thing. I didn’t even put that word in the tags. Just an interesting example of the impact of relying on spellchecker.
    We need to get together sometime to talk about blogs.

  8. The spell-checking feature in most programs is wrong often enough that it’s a real hazard (and don’t let me get started on grammar check!). I have used the “add to dictionary” feature for items I’m absolutely sure of, but still feel a bit squeamish about doing so. Interesting post!

    National Association of Independent Writers and Editors

  9. Wow, definitely not the direction you were planning for the comments, I suppose. I liked this post (and your site in general, being a word nerd myself), sorry I can’t think of an example to get the comments back on track … 🙂

  10. Thanks saramason

  11. Sorry about that. I just have this fascination with Mormons.

    I still want to talk blogs, too. I have a new idea for a local blog.

    All right. Spellchecker fails: Manger when I’m trying to write Manager. Happens all the time!

  12. Cat I am ready to meet whenever. Email me.
    I think you said you go to Boulder so we could meet after work maybe?

  13. I accidentally typed “hoe” instead of ‘how” once. You must read even though you spell check! 🙂