Treatise on Spell Check
Spell Check can’t do everything.
I was at the Farmers’ Market at Robinson the other day. Small but interesting; an assortment of vendors with good stuff. Dave Stotler had Lodi apples, good for the first apple pies of the season. A lady from Randolph was there with a food truck that had been featured on WKSU’s “Quick Bites”. Great Harvest bakery from Stow had pepperoni rolls and breads—some on order—available. A couple of tents had produce of various kinds( One had some plants labeled “Sweet Pea” tomatoes; I was tempted ) tomatoes, squash, the usual. Mantua Gardens had offerings of their hydroponic lettuces, which looked fabulous, by the way. Jo’s Kettle Corn was fresh, salty, sweet, crunchy, just what it should be and terribly addicting. One young woman was working her way through cooking school by—what else—cooking…well, baking, actually. She had some tasty cookies and I’m always in favor of education, so…. Another pair of entrepreneurs had offerings that they called “Tiny Treats” or “Mini Munchies” or some such thing, implying that the items were small and tasty, which they were.
So where am I going with this and what does it have to do with Spell Check?
The printed labels on the little lemon/almond macaroons and the teeny cookie cuties had clearly been done on somebody’s computer and printed out for volume sales. Unfortunately, the proofreader had been absent, probably stuffing his face somewhere with the left-overs, because the designation on the blackberry bites, intended, surely, to imply that one should just “pop” them into one’s mouth, that they were as big a taste treat as the “poppers” to be found at Chi-Chi’s or some other similarly Latino-flavored watering hole, had doubled the wrong letter and instead of Blackberry Poppers, the discerning customer could purchase a plate of Blackberry Poopers. Bon Appetit!
Which was preface, next day, to a risible moment at the TLC when the notice on the locker room doors, warning that replacement of the water heater was going on, announced (in more or less these words) : No hot water . New heater will be installed this weekend. Sorry for the incontinence.
Sorry, indeed! Makes one think twice about hopping into the water, does it not? People took pictures of the sign with their cell phones. It’ll probably be on Facebook or You Tube or something. Get in a “Bloopers” book maybe.
We all do it occasionally, look at some word that we have just written or printed and see, not what we have actually written, but what we INTENDED to write. There! Done. Moving along now…. Later, when someone else sees it, it’s crack-up time. Sometimes though, you get some other soul who is on your same wavelength and doesn’t see anything wrong with it either. They know what you meant. What’s everybody giggling about?
And it doesn’t help that English—such as it is—has just truckloads of homophones (used to be lumped together with homographs as homonyms Does that help?). Spell Check doesn’t know from spit which is which, so if you don’t and you use the wrong one it won’t rat you out. Some of the more advanced systems have some concept of grammar and syntax and may give you a heads-up, but don’t count on it. Besides, depending on your audience, nobody may recognize that you’ve said something ridiculous, anyway. If you hear guffaws coming from where your stuff is being read…red…?…, you might want to check on whether the subject is an artist’s palette, an industrial shipping pallet or a gourmet palate is being referenced. Makes a difference if you’re…your…yore…? …driving truck, painting the living room or eating out. (Watch out for the salad. If it’s got carats in it, you’ve found your lost engagement ring; if there are carets, find out what the additions are; orange vegetables are standard.
The number of words that can be pronounced the same and spelled the same while having different meanings and different pronunciations in different contexts doesn’t even bear thinking about( Oh, go ahead, think about rose, bow, dust, read, lead, stuff like that).
And compounding it all is the current tendency to—like the Red Queen, or is it the White Queen?— decide that a word or abbreviation means whatever we say it does, regardless of what the dictionary, or anybody else, says. All of those goofy abbreviations online—LOL, BRB, etc—are a fine example. As were the seventh graders who used to say to me, “That’s what I MEANT”. It may have , indeed, been what they meant but if I had been born with the gift of divination, so as to know what everyone MEANT, rather than what they had actually SAID, I could have made a fortune in some other line of work (e.g. diplomacy, finance) and foregone the delights of teaching school.
Ditto for names. You may call yourself or name your child anything you want to (In some countries and cultures this is not possible) but don’t expect the general public to know how to spell or pronounce it if you stray from the standard or add little fillips intended to be “cute” (apostrophes are particularly problematic). I particularly recall a young lady who insisted that she was to be known as and called “Shee-la”( usually spelled “Sheila), but when she wrote it, it was always “Shelia”. Whatever.
TTFN (TA Ta For Now)