I remember how, back when I was younger, I was in awe of spell-check. I didn’t have my own computer till I was in university, but I did have the chance to use WordStar for some school work earlier on. Back then, I saw it as God’s greatest gift to mankind. (Well, right after the Nintendo GameBoy.)
Today, we probably take spell-checkers for granted, knowing that they have our backs. After all, whether you use Word, Pages, or the WordPress visual editor, you can easily dabble with the settings so that red (or some other color) lines will show up in case you make a mistake.
That’s the good news.
Now, for the bad. Spell-check isn’t infallible, as I have found out the hard way one time too many. As great as the algorithms have become, language is simply too complex to pin down. If you care about the quality of your writing, you would not want to rely solely – or too much – on spell-check because it does miss mistakes.
Here are three main kinds of mistakes that I have made, thanks to carelessness and thinking that spell-check’s got my back 100%.
One-letter slip up
This is one of the most frustrating and hardest to catch mistakes. When your mind is racing at breakneck speed, and your fingers are flying all over your keyboard trying to keep pace with your thoughts, it is very easy to mistype a single letter which can totally change the word. The result? Another word that does exist and may be grammatically/structurally correct but totally inappropriate for the sentence.
That’s something spell-check will not flag.
A few examples: product/produce, morale/moral, prophesy/prophecy.
I love homophones, simply because I like how they play upon sounds and words. Sometimes, though, they can be a pain in the bottom. Again, when in the throes of a good writing session, writing one word that sounds like another can happen. And spell-check won’t help you.
Some irritating examples:
Oh, those confusing word pairs! They’ve done some damage to the best of us, haven’t they? Ingenuous and ingenious. Prosecute and persecute.
The list goes on and on, and you can find more of those words here and here.
Do you have your own examples for these mistakes that your spell-checker will not flag? We’d love to hear about them!
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Nora Miller says
The most famous of these errors around my office was the newsletter that went out to all of our mailing list containing a reference to our “pubic affairs division”. Spell checker thought that was jes’ fine. It might have snickered behind its hand, but it did not even hint at the potential for red faces.