The Challenge of Spell Checkers

Spell Checkers - Spilt coffee by stevepb CC0 Public Domain from Pixabay
Red squiggly line by Peter Giblett

We have come accus­tomed to it when we write, the red squig­gly line the spell check­ers spit out to say you had one of those mental moments. You spelt it wrong. It is just like the teach­er back in school days getting her red pencil out to highlight your errors.

English or American?

There we have it, problem number one. Most spell check­ing software consider the past tense of spell as spelled, not spelt. There is a simple reason for this, they are American versions of the diction­ary. Even the “British” versions of the diction­ar­ies used in software systems are written by American program­mers with little under­stand­ing of region­al differ­ences in the language. In Britain many region­al dialects use spelt, but to Americans this is a type of wheat, grown in Europe. An American uses the word spelled.
As an Englishman living in Canada, during my lifetime I have worked with people from almost every land that speaks the English language. Generally, I contin­ue to write with my home version of this language and not adopt­ing a Canadian (or even American) variant. This means choos­ing to use words like colour, with the “U” included in them, and use “realise” and not “realize”. I am often the first to notice when the spelling check­er is wrong and usually reach for my diction­ary (and always have 3 within arms reach) to confirm this fact.
This was how I discovered many problems spelling check­ers have. Not mention­ing that more than a million words exist in the English language today. New words are added daily. Coders could never keep up.
I am not picking on America here as the “bad guy” They are not. I am simply point­ing out that spelling differ­ences crisscross the language. Have you taken a look at the Australian diction­ary? Different again.


Spell Checkers Stop by Kurious CC0 Public Domain from PixabayAnother writer, Marilyn Davies, has written about problems with spelling check software also so I am not alone in talking about this. Many writers turn off spell check­ing for all applic­a­tions. They are bothered by the silly problems that keep recur­ring. I do not, because they are useful in highlight­ing when I have made a typo. I know my typing skills are excel­lent, but I do slip, occasion­ally. Additionally I do use grammar check­ing software, once complet­ing edits.

Yet one further limit­a­tion of spell check­ing is when you misspell something, yet the error is actually still a correctly spelt word. Like using “net” when you inten­ded to use “not”. the problem with this type of error is that they are almost impossible to spot because your mind will almost always trick you into think­ing you used the correct word. Only context check­ing will pick this up.
Believe it or not this is where tempor­ary blind­ness has assisted me because those dark days caused me to install software that reads text to me and today it is rare for me not to post without having the item read back to me as a part of my quality control routine, which most often finds these errors.

Spell Check

Some problems with spell check­ers include:
  • Not good with place names, has some knowledge of American places, but others are often problem­at­ic.
  • Works poorly with proper names.
  • Many technic­al terms need adding to a custom diction­ary.
  • Does not find misused, but correctly spelt, words.
  • Does not detect the improp­er use of homonyms.
  • Flags words as an error yet they are correct (the replace­ment provides an identic­al spelling).
  • It doesn’t offer useful sugges­tions

Nine times out of ten when I am unsure of the spelling I will either Google the attemp­ted spelling or look it up in the diction­ary. In all fairness when you know a word but are not sure about the order of the second or third letter then a diction­ary search is much more complex, but Google can often find the word you inten­ded.


About the Author

Peter Giblett has spent his life as a business writer creat­ing reports, project plans, justi­fic­a­tions etc. Peter has written on-line since 2008, has produced web content for many web sites. He is a writer and moder­at­or for WikinutGobbledeGoox is a new source of inspir­a­tion for those looking to improve their writing, blogging, and word-craft skills.




Buy Peter B. Giblett a coffee as a thank you for contrib­ut­ing his thoughts on the power words can bring. All images used here are either owned by Peter Giblett or are CC0 Public Domain.


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