September 4, 2013
Spell-check: A Writer's Humble Pie
There's nothing wrong with being humbled every once in a while, but I'm finding myself pretty low to the ground these days.
The culprit: spell-check.
That's right. As a writer, I'm finding spell-check to be the piece of humble pie that endlessly feeds.
I don't mean when spell-check works right, but when it works wrong and turns a word into something it alone -- and in a most mechanical sort of way (no heart) -- deems sufficient.
The annoyance happens most often when I'm working off my "smart"-phone.
The problem has become so pervasive I've begun to wonder whether writers need a support group to deal with this phenomenon. This is serious stuff. Can you imagine a visual artist, a painter, who after finishing a masterpiece turns and finds her beautiful creation has a splat of paint on it, added by some force outside herself, that changes its entire meaning? And worse yet, the art exhibit is about to start and there's nothing she can do about it?
That's what spell-check-gone-wrong means to writers. We post something on Facebook in the morning for the world to see - something perfectly pithy - only to discover, just seconds after it's been downloaded, the glaring and nearly permanent typo.
Knowing the fix won't happen soon enough for our comfort level, we now resort to posting explanations about our "typos" so people know that we knew about the error, really we did, we just couldn't do anything about it right away.
Think of all the minutes wasted with us in consternation as we walk away from our phones by necessity with a spell-check typo cackling in the background, as if to say, "I'm here for the duration, Honey, so get used to me."
We've trained our whole lives to use correct spelling and grammar, and now, in one fell swoop, spell-check comes along and strips us of our dignity, tries to one-up us -- and more often than not succeeds.
Thanks to spell-check, I have inadvertently sent a text containing curse words to some of my holiest friends.
I've also shared social media posts that would pierce the heart of my high-school English teacher, who, if privy to the blatant errors, would shake her head sadly upon reading it, wondering to herself, "Where did I go wrong?"
This is no small matter. It's happening to us writers more frequently than ever -- dare I say daily? It's causing us to lose our confidence in our abilities and others to question whether we were ever writers to begin with.
We are so bogged down with spell-check guilt, in fact, that we have developed what some have diagnosed as "phantom spell-check errors," whereby even when we think we've gotten a whole paragraph right, we imagine an error within...somewhere...there just has to be one...
And perhaps worst of all are the nightmares, in which we are being chased by pages filled with letters circled in red pen eerily similar in shade to that which our second-grade teacher once used to call attention to our errors.
Sooner or later we writers are going to have to face the fact: spell-check exists and there's nothing we can do to make it go away.
If nothing else, we can at least take heart in this: without a doubt, even though spell-check has us, and has us good, it's got everyone else good, too.
We're all in this together. And it's going to be okay. I promulgate you. I mean promise. Shirley. I mean, truly.