Don’t Be a Slave to the Spellchecker

Posted on August 1, 2014 by Amber K

Welcome to Writer Rants–where every Friday a writer just lets loose on whatever the heck is bugging her this week. Enjoy.

blog-spellcheck

Few things can derail an otherwise productive day the way my spelling and grammar software can. Sometimes the words and phrases that these fickle programs highlight are just silly. In one such case, I wrote a sentence that contained this phrase: “geotags embedded in your photos.” The spellchecker suggested “goats embedded in your photos.” I’ve also seen spelling and grammar checkers suggest corrections such as these:

  • “Make sure you looks at…” instead of “Make sure you take a look at…”
  • “People who only eight bread…” instead of “People who only ate bread…”
  • “New twilights” instead of “new taillights”
  • “Outdoor green Jim” instead of “outdoor green gym”
  • “Stop buy” or “stop bye” instead of “stop by”

These weird corrections are enough to elicit a chuckle before I click “ignore” and move on. But sometimes the spelling and grammar checker take on an insidious aspect. It throws out suggestions that make me question my worth as a content writer.

For instance, take the time I wrote “total amount of manpower and fuel.” The grammar checker wanted “total amount of staffing requirements and fuel.” That can’t be right, can it? Then again, the grammar checker seems to like it when I say “creating creative things” rather than “crafting creative things,” as if creating creative creations isn’t redundant at all. It also wants me to say archaic things like “swindle artists” instead of “scam artists,” despite the fact that no one has been called a “swindler” since the 1930’s. Oh spellchecker, you charlatan, why must you try to cozen me?

Perhaps it was the late hour or the lack of coffee. Whatever the problem was, on this one particular night, I kept seeing the strangest suggestions. The grammar checker was insistent that I write things like “It will mislabeled a few…” and “most trails a range in difficulty between…” I started becoming paranoid that the software had malicious intent. It was laying in wait, ready to ambush my tired brain with an extra letter or two and a sprinkling of random punctuation marks.

I was slipping, which is why I wasn’t prepared for the “well-known” incident. I hyphenated “well-known,” but the grammar checker disagreed. Fine. I deleted the hyphen. Later, when I pasted the text into a different editing tool, a rotten green line popped up, telling me to hyphenate “well-known.” I could have just shrugged it off, assumed I was correct in the first place, and put the dang hyphen back. But I’m much too melodramatic to just let these things go. I had to prove the software wrong, so I spent the next hour Googling hyphens.

I learned some things. “Well known” is a compound modifier, or two words combined into a single adjective that describes a noun. When a compound modifier comes before the noun it describes, it is hyphenated. If it appears after the noun, it is not hyphenated. Therefore, the following two sentences are both correct:

  • She is a well known writer.
  • The well-known writer is having an existential crisis.

I also learned that spelling and grammar tools are beasts without reason. Sure, sometimes they’ve got your back. They’ll helpfully pick out misspelled words or errant commas. Other times, they will turn on you, insisting on Oxford commas all the way while suggesting that your sentences are fragments even though they have very clear subjects and predicates. Don’t let your proofreading software become your master — unless, that is, you truly do have goats embedded in your photos.

Amber K enjoys writing about home improvement, gardening and the great outdoors. When she’s not sitting in front of a computer, she can be found developing strategies to conquer the world – or at least her own little piece of it!


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