Category Archives: Spellcheck Sucks!

Spellcheck Sucks! Let’s Going!

I’ve got two lovely proofs of the suckiness of spellcheck today. One is this lovely bit of “If It Ain’t Broke, Hit It Harder”:

Original: “The meeting is about to begin; let’s go,” urged Judy.

Spellcheck Suggestion: “going”

Really, spellcheck? “Let’s going”?

So, let’s say I’m one of Deb’s international students. English is pissing me off anyway, with its subjunctives and gerunds and whatnot. I run spellcheck on my assignment and come up against this little gem. The sentence I wrote is absolutely correct, but I’m not 100% sure of that. So I figure, hey, this thing certainly knows better than I do. You want “going,” spellcheck? OK, then, let’s going.

Of course the beauty part is that the phrase “let’s going” IS NEVER, EVER CORRECT in English EVER. So there aren’t even little fail-safes built in to keep spellcheck from saying  stuff that doesn’t even follow its own rules. Fantastic.

Here’s my second example of how helpful spellcheck is (which is to say, “not”) and there are a LOT of examples of this sort of non-advice, so I may do a separate post on it. But for now:

I have a sentence here that is correct. It’s complex, I’ll grant you, but the audience reading level for this particular project is pretty high, and the way the sentence is structured makes it easy enough to follow. I’m running spellcheck to look for glitches, and here’s the critique I get: “Too many phrases.”

One of the most frequently asked questions about hiring an editor is “Can’t I just do this myself?” Dude, if you know precisely what to do when spellcheck says something as ridiculous as “Too many phrases,” I tip my hat to you.*


*But you should still hire an editor!


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Spellcheckers See, But They Do Not Observe

In honor of my current obsession with Benedict Cumberbatch, I quote the great Sherlock Holmes:

“Spellcheckers suck!”

OK, he never said that. But he should have. Because they do.

Proof? You want proof? Here you go:

learn teach spellcheck

Uh… excuse me? Having already made itself ridiculous in a million other ways, Word’s spellchecker has decided that “learn” and “teach” are “Commonly Confused Words”. And I suppose there are instances where someone might say, for example, “I’ll learn ya to talk back, ya lily-livered scallywag!” Or something. But that person is very unlikely to be typing that into Word — mostly because Old-Timey Wild-West Gibberish hasn’t been spoken since the old-timey. If that sentence were to be typed into word, it would be as character dialogue, and no one will ever want that spellchecked into something like, “I will teach you to controvert my command, you cowardly scofflaw!”

Other than that, I can’t think of a single instance where someone would confuse “learn” and “teach”. It’s like confusing “throw the ball” with “be hit in the head by the ball because you have poor depth perception…” Oh, wait, that’s just me. Well, you know what I mean.

Elementary, my dear Benedict Cumberbatch: spellcheckers SUCK. 

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Spellcheck Sucks: He, Himself

“Topper was shocked to hear himself say, ‘No.'”

Spellcheck’s suggestion: he

That would give us:

“Topper was shocked to hear he say, ‘No.'”

OK guess what? That’s not better. Because it is simply not possible to arrange words in the English language such that “he” would be appropriate there.

And yes, that was a challenge.

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Spellcheck Sucks: “That Am” The Truth

Here’s the sentence Spellcheck marked just now:

“I mean, you wanna step out with me, that’s fine, c’mon.”

And why did it mark this sentence? Oh, Spellcheck works in mysterious ways, but the reason it gave was this:

“Subject-Verb Agreement. Suggestions: ‘that am'”

Wait… what? That AM? “You wanna step out with me, that AM fine”?

I can’t even think of a situation in which “that am” would even be an option, let alone this one, in which it is utterly ridiculous! Why would “that am” even be programmed into a spellchecker? Did they say “OK, spellchecker, now if you ever see THIS particular situation…” (and the definition of THIS will have to be left to greater minds than mine) “… suggest ‘that am’. Yeah, that’s much better.”

No, of course not. What they did was say “OK, spellchecker, now, if this bizarre arrangement of circumstances should occur — or, for that matter, if ANY circumstances at ALL should occur — whatever you do, do not NOT suggest ‘that am’. You know… you never know!”

Yes! We do! We do know! Whatever else we may be unclear about, we do know that “that am” is just never going to be the answer. And that’s really what we want. We want a spellchecker smart enough to know when the suggestion that bubbles to the surface is just plain dumb.

Also I want a solid-gold potty. And that’s not gonna happen either.

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Spellcheck Sucks! An Occasional Series from Wordnerdia

So, spellcheckers suck. This isn’t news. And I’m not going to mention any particular spellcheck and its particular brand of suckiness, because the suckage is pretty much universal. Plus I don’t want to get sued. (Look up “exercise in futility”.)

Once upon a time when I was a grad slave — I mean teaching assistant — I had a student who, at the end of his twenty-page report, hit “Spellcheck” and then “Accept All”. No, he did not review any of the changes.  I was glad he did this: the results were very entertaining, and I got a chance to say to the rest of the class: “See this? Don’t do this.”

As an editor, I use spellcheckers all the time. I use them mostly to catch artifacts from the change-tracking feature: sometimes it’s hard to sort out all those red marks and underlines and strikeouts and whatnot. I generally turn on the “check grammar” option because why not? And that’s where spellcheckers show off their extra-special suckitude. Here’s today’s example, from a really good book I’m editing, Brand Gamblin’s “Discount Miracles” (coming soon to Amazon and other purveyors of fine self-publishment. Click to see other excellent titles by Brand Gamblin*).

Here’s the passage I was checking:

The prince nodded, “Good thinking. Thank you, your eminence.” He stood up to face the crowd. He threw his head back and struck a pose to reveal himself in all his finery. The effect was powerful. Light glistened off the golden design woven into the robe. It shone off his oily hair.

(Just fyi, his hair is oily because he has been anointed as a god.)

OK, so here’s the suggested revision from the spellchecker:

The prince nodded, “Good thinking. Thank you, your eminence.” He stood up to face the crowd. He threw his head back and struck a pose to reveal himself in all his finery. The effect was powerful. Light glistened off the golden design woven into the robe. It shown off his oily hair.

Now, what the hell is that? What would that even mean? This part is actually quite fascinating to me: what grammatical rules are encoded in a spellchecker that would lead to this silliness?

Even if the sentence were set in the passive (“It was shown off his oily hair”) there wouldn’t even be an implied subject. What, “… by the Law of Reflection”?

OK, I’ll accept that. Then if we try to set it straight using the good words (right order) approach of SV(O), we get “The law of reflection showed the light off his oily hair.”

But, of course, “off” is shorthand, so we might more correctly say “The law of reflection showed the light by bouncing it off his oily hair.”

But that’s still nonsense, and why? Why?

Extra Nerd Points: because the verb “show” is DItransitive! Duh!

We would need a subject and TWO objects, a theme and a recipient! Where is our recipient? In this particular case, it was the audience. So now the spellchecker wants “The law of reflection showed the light TO the audience by bouncing it off his oily hair.”

Which is stupid.

And that’s why spellchekers suck.



*Yes this is his actual name, not a nom de plume swiped from a Marlboro Man. I truculently refused to believe it, insisting that it must be an Ellis Island revision of “Brandon Gamblinstein” or “Brando Gamblini”. He’s been signing his e-mail “Brando” ever since. Great guy. Great writer. Go buy some books.


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