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Pitfalls of Spell Check

Spell check is a great feature of word processing systems; however, spell check is not perfect. There are too many words in the English language that are similar and require actual proofreading to rely simply on spell check. For instance, consider the sentence: I like to eat dessert in the desert. Spell check would approve of the words even if one “s” was placed differently: I like to eat desert in the dessert. The latter sentence is meaningless. We don’t sit in a chocolate cake and eat dust. However, recently in the grocery store, I whipped out my pen and added an “s” to a sign in the bakery department advertising “desert.”

Proofreading also depends on vocabulary knowledge, which was illustrated to me in a church worship service where I was dumbfounded at the lyrics: “His yolk is easy and his burden is light.” This song is based on a Bible verse using the analogy of a yoke, a wooden bar that joins together animals who are working together, to describe being joined to God. No mention of eggs and yolks, the yellow center of an egg, in this Bible verse. When I saw the lyrics on the screen, I looked around the room and didn’t see anyone else looking perplexed. Was is possible that I was the only one in the room who saw the egg on the face of the person who had prepared the lyrics? I know it is shallow of me to be distracted in my worship, but words actually do convey meaning, and the wrong words are sometimes extremely distracting.

Spell check is a great first step in the editorial process, but it cannot replace the careful proofing of each word and its meaning.

One final note – after I wrote this blog post, I used the spell check feature on my word processor. It actually performed well and flagged the crazy usage of “desert” and “dessert” in my examples and asked if I wanted to change them. I left them intact to illustrate my point. Then I went over to another word processing system and tested the sentence. It passed without flagging any errors. The “yokes” and “yolks” were not flagged in either system.

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