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The red squiggle will not save you

Posted on October 2nd, by admin in Our views. No Comments

Spellcheck close-up screen grabHurrah for spell-checking software! It makes life so much easier, right?

Er, no. It doesn’t, or at least, not always.

For instance, sometimes it will auto-correct something it really shouldn’t. There’s a youth trend now to say something is ‘book’ when you really like it. Why? Because predictive text on some phones auto-corrects ‘good’ to ‘book.’ This is an innocuous example. In fact, it’s quite good – sorry, book – because a new meaning has entered the language. But many cases aren’t good at all. Word processing software might, let’s say, alter the unusual spelling of a name – and because the corrected spelling is an accepted word, there’s no red squiggle to alert you to the (wrong) change.

And that’s the nub of it, isn’t it? The red squiggle won’t always save you. Here’s another instance. Suppose you mis-type a word, but your typo is also a real word. Software won’t spot it. There was a famous case of this many years ago, when an in-flight magazine carried a sentence that read: “Passengers walking up the gangway to the plane will now be able to help themselves to a paper.” Unfortunately, the L in ‘walking’ had been replaced with an N. Even more unfortunately, no one spotted the error until late in the production process, and the entire month’s print-run had to be pulped. No red squiggle, but plenty of red faces.

The lesson to be learned here is that there’s no substitute for someone with the eye of an eagle and the patience of a saint to do the proofreading.

By way of light relief, you might like to watch this clip. It’s a stand-up routine about proofreading, and it’s very funny.

 – Robert Fenner, writer and editor, Forsyth Websper

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