Spell Check: Friend or Foe?

CC BY-SA 2.0 Photo by Michael Mandiberg
CC BY-SA 2.0 Photo by Michael Mandiberg

Spelling and grammar are important.  It seems to be a common belief that they are no longer relevant, due to autocorrect and spell check, but I would argue that this makes them more important than ever.

Admittedly, I tend to get somewhat irrationally riled up over errors.  When I saw a spectator holding a sign reading “pain is temorary” in the late miles of a marathon, I was filled with a disproportionate amount of rage – if you’re going through all the trouble of making a sign and coming out to cheer for someone, why wouldn’t you bother to ensure everything is spelled correctly?  “Temorary” is not even a word!

That sign was hand-written, which is why spell check didn’t catch the non-word.  But this is why, instead of being helpful, spell check makes the situation even worse: if a word is misused, spell check won’t know.  It doesn’t have a brain.  People do.  They are the ones who are supposed to be able to differentiate between “then” and “than,” or “your” and “you’re.”

By Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, United States (No Parking Sign with Duct Tape) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
CC BY 2.0 image by Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, United States (No Parking Sign with Duct Tape), via Wikimedia Commons
In a similar vein, “definitely” and “defiantly” do not mean the same thing.

Defiantly (adverb): characterized by bold or daring resistance to authority or any opposing force
Defiantly (adverb): characterized by bold or daring resistance to authority or any opposing force

The concept of spell check is a good one, in theory, but it seems like it just allows people to take the lazy way out: instead of using a dictionary to look up a word, thereby cementing the correct spelling and usage in one’s brain, we now depend on this unreliable mechanism.  If the intention behind it is to make people appear smarter (or at least like better spellers), it is an abysmal failure.

By Thomas R Machnitzki (thomas@machnitzki.com) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
CC BY 3.0 image by Thomas R Machnitzki (thomas@machnitzki.com) via Wikimedia Commons
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t use spell check, but it’s only your first line of defense against embarrassing spelling or grammar mistakes. Proofreading is essential – you’re smarter than spell check! If you’re not sure about something, look it up. To quickly check the meaning of a word, try typing it after define: in Google.

A Google search like "define:auspicious" will automatically pull up a dictionary definition
A Google search like “define:auspicious” will automatically pull up a dictionary definition

Or check out a few of the many resources available through Touro and its libraries:

Writing help, including information on proper punctuation, spelling and grammar, is available on the Writing Research Guide.

Touro students who would like to have their papers proofread can use the Online Tutoring Service.

Dictionaries are available at all Touro Libraries in the reference section and many are available as E-books online.

Foolproof Spelling and Spelling Simplified are two E-books available online through Touro College Libraries to help you improve your spelling.  You will need your off-campus username and password to access these E-books when you are not on campus.

Contributed by: Leiba Rimler, Judaica Cataloging Librarian

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