Advertisement

A Word, Please: Spell check can’t always save you — yet

On Twitter, the hashtags #SpellCheckWontSaveYou and #SpellCheckCantSaveYou aren't particularly popular, clocking just a few dozen instances each over the past few years. But for word nerds or anyone who wants to avoid common writing pitfalls, they're worth checking out.

They're easy to find. Like all Twitter hashtags, they're just optional keywords some people choose to put in their posts, which can then be found by other users who search for those terms.

Advertisement

So, if you searched Twitter today for #SpellCheckWontSaveYou, one of the recent posts you would see is from a user who goes by Mededitor, a professional medical editor whom I count among my online friends: "It is a principal that is understood by the companies."

An extra hashtag he threw in, "#AmEditing," tells you where he found this example sentence.

Advertisement

"Principal" is an error. The writer meant "principle," which is a fundamental law, doctrine or assumption. Spell check didn't save the writer. Mededitor did.

Here's another from Mededitor: "Create a team of advisers and follow their council."

No, "advisers" isn't the problem. That can be spelled either of two ways, the other being "advisor" (side note: Associated Press style prefers the E one). The problem is "council." That's the way you spell a governing or advising body, such as a city council. Its homophone meaning advice or especially legal advice is "counsel."

People rely on spell check because in many ways it's great. Put 500 instances of "glamor" in place of "glamour" in a 1,000-page document and spell check will catch every one, whereas I might catch 95% of them on a good day. But I know some things spell check doesn't, like how if you're in school, the principal is your pal. So there's more to the job than being an eagle-eyed automaton.

Advertisement

True, it's just a matter of time before computers out-edit us merely mortal copy editors. But we're not there yet.

When I type "I haven't seen any one" into a Microsoft Word document, spell check doesn't know I meant "anyone." But when I type "I don't know any one," Word flags the error. It seems the software tried to distinguish between the times when a human user might want "any one" instead of "anyone." It failed.

When I type "He waved his right to an attorney," spell check fails to catch that I meant "waived," meaning relinquished, and not "waved," meaning a friendly hand gesture.

When I type, "This is a great every day value," spell check doesn't know something editors do: "Everyday" is one word when it's an adjective.

On the other hand, if I type, "My one time boyfriend showed up with a gift," spell check catches the error, alerting me to the fact that "one time" should be "onetime." And it knows that "I need to altar my plans" is an error because I failed to use "alter."

But spell check doesn't catch the mistake in the sentence "The accommodations will envelope you in luxury." That should be "envelop." Nor does it note that the sentence "The invitation was printed on fine linen stationary" also has an error. "Stationary" means unmoving. "Stationery" means paper products.

So the hashtag names ring true: spell check can't save you.

Not every user of these hashtags is an editor offering advice. Some are just everyday Twitter users having some fun.

Advertisement

"College café serving something called a venison lion," a user named Christopher reported, adding, "Yummy!"

Then there's this tweet from a user named Aaron: "Pro Tip, ladies: don't say 'good at pubic speaking' on your dating profile."

And the topper: "Be careful when using the word 'invest,'" a user named Ben warns. "C is next to V on the keyboard."

JUNE CASAGRANDE is the author of "The Best Punctuation Book, Period." She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.

Advertisement
Advertisement