Friday, February 17, 2017

Word Wrestle #4: Spell Check is NOT Your Friend.

Last week, we talked about how to get good spelling and grammar help--which is to run what you write through the real-life pair of eyes of someone who knows how to do these things correctly.

And, as you know, there is also a way to get bad help.
That comes from applications that promise to do "spell-checks" and "grammar checks."
And they're everywhere.

Today, however, we're just going to talk about the Microsoft Word version of it.
Which ought to be called a perversion of it.

I don't know why one of the world's superpower-corporations couldn't get this right. They've had years and years, and versions and versions and VERSIONS of Windows, in which to figure out that whoever wrote that original version of Word's Spelling and Grammar Check was a complete imbecile.

Yet it has never been fixed. Not by one iota.


I found out why when I ran a document through the Grammar Check, once upon a time, with the honest intention of seeing if it would, in fact, catch bad grammar.
If it would, in fact, catch sentences that don't make sense because the wrong WORD is in them.
If it would, in fact, catch things like putting "hers" where you mean "his" or "her" where you mean "him," or similar things that are RIGHT in the strict spelling sense, but complete and utter gibberish in terms of meaning.

I'm here to tell you, unfortunately, that Grammar Check can't find any of those.
It can't tell sentence sense.
It can't tell when you've accidentally put the wrong gender in a sentence.
And it can hardly tell when you've said "hardly" but meant "heartily."
In short, it's not a Grammar Check at all, in that it will not correct ERRORS of that sort.

But what it DOES do, boys and girls, are things like this:
--Where you have a sentence that says a phrase like "your children" or "your career" or "your school" will query that and suggest "you're."
--Where you have a sentence like "She didn't know if she dared," it will query that and suggest putting in a question mark.
--And probably the worst and most egregious offense of all...Where you have a sentence that says "It's a problem," it will query it and suggest you change to "Its." And where you say, "Its nature is to be incorrect most of the time," it will absolutely bear that sentiment out--by querying and suggesting "It's."

I don't have hard figures on this. I don't have statistics. If someone does, I'd love to see them. But I'd be willing to guess, off the top of my head, that Word's Spelling and Grammar Check will take something that's already correct and tell you to make it wrong approximately 88 percent of the time.

And the rest of the time, it won't find the wrong word or the nonsensical sentence. Because if the words are all spelled can't read enough to actually check the GRAMMAR and tell you the sentence is wrong.

Which means that while, as a raw spelling (and repeated-word) checker, it has some limited a Grammar Check, it's a complete fraud.

And yes, I'm prepared to stand behind that.
Because I've seen many instances of what results when writers lean on it.
And that, boys and girls, is awful.

Spare us awful writing. Either use reverse dictionaries to help you spell a word you "know" but can't "spell"...use regular dictionaries to make sure you're using the right word...use someone like Strunk and White to get some of the grammar gremlins out of the way...

...or best yet--use a really, really good editor, and all these things will be seen to.
And in order.

Class dismissed!


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