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Don’t Trust Spell Check! Here’s Why…

Spell Check has been messing with my mind lately and I am practically scowling in annoyance. I learned today that the word “when” should be spelled “wen.” “Work” should be spelled “wok.” And, believe it or not, after decades as a writer, I blooped and wrote that “good nutrition makes us stronger” instead of what Spell Check assured me should be “stringer!” Thank you, Spell Check, for setting me straight on all this! How did I ever manage without you?

Actually, I managed pretty well.

Despite the fact that one of my worst school memories was the public humiliation that came from being unable to read the word “play” in Grade 2, I’ve pretty much always loved spelling. As a young girl, I would pore over the MacMillan Spelling Series textbook every day, and I practically lived for spelling dictation. Language Arts was fun for me and I loved reading. I’m sure my mother never knew that I almost always walked to school with my nose in a book, something I would never have let my own children do (or maybe they did!).

Back before computers came along to save us from having to proof our own written work, it was common for people to read through their documents and check for errors. In fact, that was an important secretarial task, back in the day: the secretary not only had to be a whiz-bang typist, but she had to have superb language skills in order to ensure her boss, the executive, looked good on paper. Good grammatical and spelling skills were a competitive advantage in a business world dominated by typewriters, and a secretary was highly motivated to get things right the first time: one mistake and she would have to re-type the entire document. Life got easier when the IBM Selectric came along. Does anybody remember what a revolutionary machine that was? It offered a neat backspace function that would allow the typist to whiteout an error and type over it. It didn’t replace strong spelling skills. But it helped make life easier. Those were the days when, generally speaking, there was a place for people with great language skills. And they were valued very highly.

It’s interesting that great language skills and great strategic skills were not expected to reside in one person, male or female, at the same time, as they are now.

Now that the world has pretty much eliminated the secretarial pool, we’re all left to our own devices. If you don’t have strong spelling or grammatical skills, you have to rely on the vagaries of Spell Check. I’m not saying it’s always wrong. Spell Check has often saved my metaphorical bacon. If I’m thinking or typing too fast, I don’t always notice if the letters are chasing each other out onto the page in proper order. I have almost no use for Word’s Grammar Checker function, however. Although I value clarity and conciseness as much as any other writer, a) it’s often wrong and b) there’s such a thing as “style” that should be forgiven when it favours emotional impact over conciseness.

So, where does that leave people who want to use language to make a good impression? My suggestion is to have someone else, someone who loves language, read everything you write. Spell Check? Sure, but use it with caution, discernment and a good sense of humour.

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