Don’t They Have Spell Check?

By Maeve Maddox

We all know that spell checkers aren’t much help in catching homonyms. English speakers are still expected to discern the difference between pear, pare, and pair by drawing on what they should have learned in school.

Some words, however, have no sound-alikes. Spell checkers do a great job of flagging one-of-a-kind words like tragedy, definitely, Wednesday, February, separate, argument, calendar, and truly. Some applications even go so far as to change the spelling without any need for human input—a feature I find especially irritating when I want to misspell a word on purpose.

So, why do common words that spell checkers always catch continue to be misspelled in articles and comments written by people with professional pretensions?

I have no answer for that, but I do have a small sampling of such unnecessary misspellings:

Incorrect: Tradgedy: When the main character struggles to overcome hardships, but does not succeed. (Text on a flashcard offered for sale on a study aid site) 
Correct : Tragedy: When the main character struggles to overcome hardships, but does not succeed.

Incorrect: The museum is open Wensday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Travel site)
Correct : The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Incorrect: We will be closed Monday Febuary 16th in observance of Presidents Day. (City government site).
Correct : We will be closed Monday February 16th in observance of Presidents Day. 

Incorrect: I definately recommend to all of my patients to wear their compressive garment for at least 3 weeks following this procedure. (Plastic surgeon)
Correct : I definitely recommend to all of my patients to wear their compressive garment for at least 3 weeks following this procedure. 

Incorrect: Brand new one-bedroom basement apartment with seperate side entrance in a beautiful home.  (Real estate advertisement)
Correct : Brand new one-bedroom basement apartment with separate side entrance in a beautiful home. 

Incorrect: Flinn and Eastham had been involved in an arguement several weeks before the shooting. (The News Center, TV channel site)
Correct : Flinn and Eastham had been involved in an argument several weeks before the shooting.

Incorrect: There’s a wide range of custom calender sizes available. (Printing company site)
Correct : There’s a wide range of custom calendar sizes available.

Incorrect: “If Mike Madigan wanted marriage equality, truely, truely, he would put the same kind of effort behind it as he has the pension issues and other things that are high on his agenda,” Thayer said. (News site called Progress Illinois)
Correct : “If Mike Madigan wanted marriage equality, truly, truly, he would put the same kind of effort behind it as he has the pension issues and other things that are high on his agenda,” Thayer said.

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15 Responses to “Don’t They Have Spell Check?”

  • Chuck Hustmyre

    And therein lies the problem: “English speakers are still expected to discern the difference between pear, pare, and pair by drawing on what they should have learned in school.”

    The American public education system is an absolute disgrace. Indoctrination and social engineering have taken the place of education. The correct answers to mathematics problems are shunned in favor of the more self-esteem building nearly-correct answers. Script or cursive writing is being dropped. This next generation can go back to signing their names with scrawled X’s.

    You are really setting the bar quite high with your example of pear, pare, and pair. Just a quick look at Facebook will tell you that many, many adults can’t tell the difference between they’re, there, and their or your and you’re.

    I know every generation thinks the end is near, but this time it’s true. If you’ve seen the movie Idiocracy, you’ll see where we are headed as a society.

  • Nancy

    Thanks for the good reminder about using spell checkers and not throwing the baby out with the bath water. Although this article is not about ordinals in dates, I noticed in the third example, “We will be closed Monday February 16th in observance of President’s Day.”

    I rechecked all my style books (Chicago, AP, and Gregg) and confirmed that they would use cardinal numbers and commas: “We will be closed Monday, February 16, in observance of President’s Day.” Any reason for your use of the ordinal, or was that just an oversight?

  • John

    Incorrect: “Congradulations on your promotion.”
    Correct: Congratulations on your promotion.”

  • Eleanor Rayl

    Concerning:
    Incorrect: We will be closed Monday Febuary 16th in observance of Presidents Day. (City government site).
    Correct : We will be closed Monday February 16th in observance of Presidents Day.

    Shouldn’t the date be “February 16” (no “th”) when the number follows the month?

  • Vali Jamal

    Congratulation on your promotion. Correct or incorrect? Correct if you don’t really mean it. Like saying I congratulate from the top of my heart. English is very susceptible to innovations.

  • Vali Jamal

    Sure, spellcheck would catch all of the examples given, but not if you used publically for publicly. I see that publically is now being accepted. Practise or practice? In US English only practice exits – as both noun and verb.

  • Simon Tierney

    You need to be careful with:
    Incorrect: There’s a wide range of custom calender sizes available. (Printing company site)
    Correct : There’s a wide range of custom calendar sizes available.

    In the printing business the term calender is used in reference to paper thickness. It is perfectly possible that that printing company has a large range of paper thicknesses available and that is what they meant…

  • Marci Lindsay

    I’m sure that many people see all the squiggly lines and think it’s their computers telling them their writing is awesome.

  • Curtis Manges

    I can offer one helpful mnemonic:

    “There’s _a rat_ in _separate_.”

  • Maeve

    Nancy,
    I collect most of my examples from the Web. I rarely edit them.

  • LadyD

    “So, why do common words that spell checkers always catch continue to be misspelled in articles and comments written by people with professional pretensions? ”

    The answer to that is because there are a number of people out there like myself who are annoyed by the “check spelling as you type” feature of most word processors. Unlike most such people, I do run a quick spell check on important documents – after I’ve finished the typing. I do not always check spelling in casual correspondence though; I find spell check more of a hindrance than a help most of the time.

  • venqax

    “The Mardi Gras Grand Marshall was Fats Domino.”

    “The even was attended by Field Marshall The Lord Walker of Aldringham.”

    “Seven U.S. marshalls testified at the House Committee hearing….”

    The military/law enforcement/honorary rank is marshaL. One and only one L. It is, for me anyway, probably the most often encountered misspelled word, extending to professional publications. The surname is spelled Marshall, but that alone does not explain the ubiquitousness of the problem. We don’t see taylors’ shops or tayloring services advertised, or read about a lot of shepards with flocks to tend.

  • thebluebird11

    @chuck: Maybe that is why they are called Gen X LOL

  • Precise Edit

    With indifference to language, communication lapses and civilization declines.

    The answer to your question: indifference, apathy.

    To make matters worse, many popular figures and other influences in our society celebrate and reward this indifference toward, and the intentional misuse of, language.

    And that terrifies me.

  • Paul Davis

    So many excuses being made, blaming bad spelling on poor education. Spellcheck is a thing that exists and generally has enough customizable options to be used with high confidence. This is a problem with laziness and indifference.
    How else do you explain national news sites with spelling errors increasing by the day? NYT, WAPO, even the AP news outlets. When actual journalists don’t bother to proofread their stories how much worse do you think aggregate sites are going to get? I find glaringingly easy words being misspelled on sites like Science.com, phys.org and freaking NASA!
    With spellcheck features being ubiquitous on every writing app in existence, blaming the education system is a laughable cop-out.

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