Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Spelling Checked

I hate spell check. Always have.

I've always thought the errors and ridicule resulting from the failure to use spell check properly far outweighed its value, at least for editors who are supposed to know how to spell. I personally have seen it go bonkers, catching an editor who hadn't read what spell check did, which was change a byline for "Toedtman" to "Deadman". Actually it's not a bad substitution on the part of spell check, unless you're the one whose byline was wrecked. But that was just one of about 18 errors created by spell check in that one story.

I know, I know, that the tool shouldn't be blamed because of operator error. But the tool doesn't work the way people think, and it certainly shouldn't be used in place of another tool, a brain.

There are many other examples where spell check took people over the edge, including this legal case cited by Languagehat.

From the
Chicago Sun-Times QT column
L.W., a Lincoln, Neb., reader, regarding a San Francisco law firm's computer spell-check replacing the legal phrase "sua sponte" with "sea sponge" in a brief, writes:

"I spent nearly 20 years correcting transcripts. A couple of my transcript finds: 'Oxymoron' came out 'Nazi moron.' 'Panacea' came out 'pan of sea.' I had to call the Education Department when the transcript said 'Department of Sensually Impaired Outreach.' It turned out to have been 'Department of Sensory Impaired Outreach.' "

QT's spell-check, meanwhile, has Mayor Delay in charge of Chicago.

From We Regret the Error This jolly typo/correction comes from the Liverpool Daily Post in England:

Technology has revolutionised most of our lives in recent years and the media has particularly benefited from developments in IT and communications. But all technology should always be treated with a degree of caution. This was a lesson brought into sharp focus last week following a review of the Welsh National Opera's double bill performance of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci at the Empire Theatre. The problem arose when the computer spell checker did not recognise the term "WNO" (Welsh National Opera). A slip of the finger caused it to be replaced with the word "winos". All stories in the Daily Post go through a series of checks for error, but unfortunately this one slipped through the net. It just goes to show that it's hard to beat the good, old-fashioned dictionary.

Or this, no fewer than five instances are cited in Nexis, of the name of the Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi being rendered as Janitor Koizumi.

And then there's this, a Boston Globe story about the Springfield paper, back in 1997:

A curious, computerized spell-check error in the Springfield Union-News caused a front-page story in yesterday's issue of that paper to refer to a losing candidate in a local election repeatedly as "bell ringing," instead of her last name.

Judith A. Sessler, an incumbent selectwoman, was unseated by Mark T. Denning in a vote that the paper said occurred "amid a display of fireworks and bell ringing from supporters."

But according to a source, the spell-checking function that was supposed to correct a mistake - an unnecessary dash between the words "bell" and "ringing" - instead replaced Sessler's name with the words "bell ringing."

And from the Portland (Maine) Press-Herald in 1997:

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 1 p.m. Thursday at St. Maximilian Kalb Church, Black Point Road. Arrangements are by Convoy-Fully South Portland Chapel. CORRECTION: the funeral home should have been identified as Conroy-Tully. It was a copy editor's spell-check error.

The Online News Association reported back in 2004 that Dow Jones Newswires had banned spell check. Good for Dow Jones.

Joe Grimm over at the Detroit Free Press posted an ode to spell check

Spell check problems aren't limited to newspapers, of course. Professor Sandeep Krishnamurthy at the University of Washington has, shall we say, issues with Microsoft's grammar and spell check.

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