The Grammarphobia Blog

Is your spell-checker a maverick?

Q: Ever since I installed the new Mavericks operating system on my Mac, I’ve been in a tussle with the new spell-checker. And the spell-checker is winning. Before, my alleged mistakes were underlined with little red dots, which I often ignored. Now, they’re simply “corrected,” never mind what I want. Well, thanks for listening to my rant.

A: Yes, spell checkers can be frustrating. We’ve had our battles with them too. Fortunately, most spell checkers let you turn off unwanted features.

We don’t have Macs, but we found a guide on the Apple website with advice on how to win tussles with the Mavericks spell-checker.

In Apple’s OS X Mavericks, according to the guide, you can disable the “Correct Spelling Automatically” feature.

In the Apple menu, go to “System Preferences,” then click on “Keyboard” and “Text.” To turn off the automatic correction feature, choose “Edit,” then “Spelling and Grammar,” and uncheck “Correct Spelling Automatically.”

As for spell-checkers, we use ours all the time but we don’t trust them. As Pat points out in Woe Is I, her grammar and usage book, spell-checkers aren’t very picky. They don’t care whether the subject is a “guerrilla” or a “gorilla.”

 “Humans, however, are picky,” Pat writes. “They notice little differences between words that sound the same (like way and weigh, or rain and reign), or words that are similar but not alike (such as not and now, or affect and effect, or how and who). To a real person, one is not just as good as another!”

The lesson?

“Don’t expect your computer to think for you. Sure, go ahead and use your checker, but don’t depend on it to catch every mistake. Word processors have dictionaries, but not common sense—at least not yet. So don’t automatically hit Replace every time the program tells you to (oar Yule bee sari).”

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