Tuesday, August 30, 2011

3- The Perils of Spell Check

Seven Reasons Why Spell Check isn't Enough

I firmly believe that no matter how good a writer you think you are, you need someone to proof or line read your article, novel, script, or thesis before sending it off.  Too many things slip by unnoticed when you've worked with the same document for a long period of time.  I have to grit my teeth when I hear someone say that their script or novel draft is "about the story" and the spelling or grammar doesn't matter.  It does. It is part of the craft of writing.  Learn it.  And since Spell Check came along and seems to be on everything from Word documents to script programs to Hotmail, there is really no excuse not to use it.

There are things that Spell Check can't help us with, though, and this is why we need a professional human proof reader.  So, assuming you have already diligently put your document through a spell checker, what type of things does a proofreader look for that a spell checker has missed?

We all make mistakes when we write. That's a given.   Anyone who sends text messages knows how sneaky the auto-correct function of spell check is, changing a word just as you hit send. And when you are doing a larger document you are typing quickly, editing as you go, changing tenses, adding and subtracting text.  A slip of the finger on a key, and what we intended to say - "They are great assets" - becomes - "They are great asses".  

There are no red lines under any words signifying a spelling mistake, as the words are all spelled correctly.  At a quick read-over, we would probably skip right over this blunder.  A good proofreader will catch these unfortunate blunders and ask, "Did you really mean to say that?"

There's a classic scene in one Friends episode where Chandler and Joey are talking, and Chandler says he hates when people pronounce it "supposably".  When Chandler leaves, Joey considers the word.  "Supposably.  Supposably."  He tries it out in dialogue.  "Did they go to the zoo? ... Supposably." 

So now I can't use the word supposedly without double checking.  Supposedly?  Supposably?  Arg!  And by the way, there is such a word as "supposably".  It's the adverbial form of the adjective "supposable" which means "that can be supposed or conjectured, like a supposable outcome" or "capable of being conceived or imagined". (My Spell Check keeps trying to change supposably to supposedly as I type this.)

Another word consistently used incorrectly is "literally".  When I read "the man was literally dancing on cloud nine", I have to ask, "Really?  Literally?  He was literally dancing on cloud nine?"  If you were to write "the man was dancing on cloud nine", this is understood to be an idiom and the intent is understood.  This is one happy guy.  But he is not literally dancing in the clouds.

These are words which sound the same but have different meanings and spellings.  They are also easy to confuse, especially when writing at two in the morning.  Some examples are: waist/waste, two/too, their/there/they're, pair/pear/pare, peek/peak, rain/rein/reign 

One very common mistake is its/it's .  When I first started to write, I put this on a sticky note by my monitor.  it's=it is (or it has)  its=belonging to it  

On occasion, we discover that we've been hearing a word or expression wrong for years.  I was out of high school before I found out that it wasn't "the place next store" but "the place next door".  It had always seemed a rather dumb expression to me before that.  Spell check doesn't catch these mistakes.

In another scene from Friends, Joey refers to something as a "moo" point rather than a "moot" point.  When questioned, he says the argument was "like a cow's opinion.  It doesn't matter.  It's moo."  In his world it made sense.  I attempted to type  "moot point" once and the spell checker converted it to "mute point", which has given my proofreader something to chuckle about for years.

I am based in Canada, and if I am writing for an American publication or publisher, I want to make sure my spelling is correct for that country.  Spell check doesn't always catch the grey/gray words or if there is one letter L or two letter Ls in travelling. And, after reading a lot of scripts and articles written by Americans, I don't think they have any better grasp of the differences between British and American spelling than do Canadians.

I hear English spoken incorrectly all the time, and by so-called educated people.  Spell Check isn't a Band-Aid for poor grammar.  The words in the following sentence are all spelled correctly and would not be flagged.  "Me and him are going to the concert."  (Should be: "He and I are going to the concert.") 

Every time I stumble across one of these, it jars me away from the story, script, or article.   A few examples are:
* Breath/Breathe 
* Access/Excess
* Choose/Choice
* Rise/Raise
* Lose/Loose
* Past/Passed
* Than/Then
* Already/All ready

Note: While "already" and "all ready" have different meanings and are two separate words, it is frowned on to use "alright" as a shortened form of "all right".  It does not have a separate meaning, and is simply a spelling mistake that has become so common, it is now accepted in some circles.

So, once you have finished your document, by all means run it through spell check, but also take the time and effort to have a proof reader look over your novel, script, or article before sending it on to publishers or producers.  It'll only make what you have written clearer, easier to read, and more professional.

1 comment:

  1. It literally drives me crazy when I hear people using words incorrectly!

    I always thought people were saying "next store" too. :)