Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Foibles of Spell Checking

At the beginning of the term I give a short lesson on why not to rely on the spellcheck function of your word processing program. I emphasize that using that function is not a replacement for word by word personal editing.

So there I was, reading student essays when I had a sudden burst of laughter, spraying coffee in all directions. My hubby, working from home today, wanted to know what was so funny. This is the line that caused the laughter: "Patrick Henry's call 'Give me puberty or give me death!' caused Virginians to be in favor of revolution." I'm pretty sure there were other reasons; in fact, I'm pretty sure this was not a reason at all. What it was was spellcheck at its worst.

Look at a keyboard; where are the "L" and "P" keys located? Yup, one almost over the other. I was fairly certain I knew what had happened to my student. He must have typed a "p" instead of an "l." Obviously spell check came up and the first word on the list of choices is puberty. It's not just my student; many, many people assume that spellcheck has ordered the words it presents with the most correct word at the top of the list. They click on this word almost without reading it.

My hubby couldn't believe this was the case so he went to his keyboard and typed in "piberty." Yes, spell check highlighted the word. And yes, the first word on the list was "puberty." Spell check goes by the first letter in the word you have typed when the word is incorrect and there is more than one choice. So, poverty and piety were also choices for replacement.

Obviously there's going to be another lesson on careful editing. Oh yes, and just try to imagine what kind of comment I could possibly write next to this error. I could have copped out and simply put "word choice" next to puberty. I compromised by putting "spellcheck error" instead.

Poor Mr. Henry--all grown up and still missing puberty.


leahle said...

Lol! I needed that laugh. Good advice for everyone though. Spell check is not perfect or even near perfect.

Abba's Rantings said...

i'm laughing at this, but also remembering that my son's school doesn't believe in teaching spelling (on principle)