The End of Spell-Check

Misspelled by Reyes 88

I was scornful of SpellCheck at the outset. I was a good speller: why would I trust a computer? Early experiences seemed to confirm my suspicions: technical and academic terms were rejected, and the bundled-in grammar checkers choked on compound complex sentences.  Their vocabulary grew rapidly and the suggestions improved.  I came to depend on them to find my typos and, yes, even to correct a word I thought I had spelled correctly.  I even graded down student writing for errors that the spell-checker would have found: sure evidence they hadn’t used an available tool.  Even mindless auto-correct seemed right more often than not.  Until recently.

The Multicultural Multilingual Brand-Name Universe

The errors introduced by the early spell-checkers were few and easy to catch: the occasional student whose name has an unusual spelling or a technical term that the SpellCheck dictionary wanted to replace with something more conventional.  I didn’t notice that I was rejecting more and more suggested changes, but I gradually began to ignore the wavy red lines in my documents.  “Its dictionary must not know that term,” I would sigh.

Auto-correct became assertive, even pushy, in recent upgrades: changing first and asking later.  I wrestled to control the name of a hospital we sponsor (“Essentia” not “essential”) or other names designed to remind us of a word without using it.  Programs were aggressive in “correcting” names and terms from other languages, relentlessly imposing English phonemes on other cultures.  Last week, a Hmong student’s traditional name, Sun Ny, mysteriously appeared as “Sunny” in the school paper through the hegemony of the electronic dictionary.

Perhaps spell-check will outlive its utility, grounded in the assumption of a monolingual culture in which names and terms follow a single linguistic path.  We might have to learn to spell again.

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About Sister Edith

Benedictine sister of St. Scholastica Monastery, Duluth, Minnesota
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