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August 16, 2013 at 12:00 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Spell Check: An Invention Only as Good as the User

By Jeany Miller More Blogs by This Author

Spell check is a great feature people use to produce reports, letters and stories without the hassle of a dictionary. It is built into most Microsoft applications and functions independently of the user. No special action is required to get the telltale, squiggly red line that highlights misspellings. Like an editor who stands over the shoulder and silently critiques, this feature works quickly and efficiently even when the writer does not. 

But spell check is not infallible. It is similar to most electronic developments in that it has shortcomings only humans can detect. This means a person cannot assume her document is perfect even with spell check turned on. She must first use time and diligence to proofread, and she must then correct her errors using knowledge of proper English.

Still, it’s better to have spell check than not. Or is it?

Spelling is not an easy subject. Some people naturally excel with it and rarely need assistance, although most do not fall into this category. The need for spell check is therefore well founded. But what happens when a person types his document and ignores the mistakes found by spell check? Worse, what if he doesn’t take the time to proofread, meaning he never even sees the mistakes?

Just because it makes life easier does not mean a person can wholly rely on spell check. It isn’t always available, and its intent is only to provide assistance. The bottom line is that people still need to be able to spell. If they can’t, the point of spell check is missed entirely.

This is where the greatest problems stem, because knowledge of spelling is steadily waning. Common English words like “hungry” and “grateful” are apt to be spelled as “hungary” and “greatful” when people write without the assistance of spell check. As soon as one person sees these words misspelled he may continue the mistakes in his own writing, and another person may do the same, and so on and so forth until errors are no longer even readily recognized. 

One of the reasons for a national language is to provide consistency in speech and spelling. Granted, people don’t deliberately misspell words to confuse readers or mutilate the English language. But the language is just the same being mutilated.

Does this mean the need for spell check is even greater, or is electronic assistance causing complacency?

To answer this question, spell check is not the reason words in the English language are so commonly misspelled. This feature actually helps produce electronic documents that are largely free of errors - or at least those that would impede comprehension.  People – not technology – are to blame because they don’t review what they write. When sending texts or posting to social media, they don’t even use proper grammar because the point of those conversations is to be heard, not to be correct.

People collectively believe spell check is fail-proof and that when writing without it the accuracy of grammar doesn’t matter. This is a false misconception at best. Grammar and spelling should always matter because they are the building blocks of language. The words that compose the English language are not part of a sublanguage that can be whimsically misspelled. They are instead part of the culture handed to each us from previous generations.

Accurate spelling doesn't make somebody hyper-sensitive or anal; it means he cares enough about his language to preserve it.

Room for debate on this subject does not exist – a word is either spelled correctly or not. When in doubt – and typing without the aid of spell check – people should return to tried and true dictionaries. This is the best way to show respect for the language that binds all Americans and allows them to freely and easily communicate every single day: English. 

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