Today’s column is about spelling, a topic that has been much on the minds of folks here at your East Valley Paragraph Factory. More precisely, the topic is “Spell Check,’’ one of the modern conveniences ushered in by the Computer Age.
While there are a lot of conveniences that I could just as soon live without, I do not include Spell Check among them. Like most modern-day Sentence Engineers, I have come to rely on this feature heavily, and it has been a great asset in my bid to appease the retired English teachers who scrutinize my efforts with red ink pen in hands and a scowl on their faces.
In the days before Spell Check, writers would have to consult the dictionary for the proper spelling of words they weren’t sure about. The problem there is that you had to know a word was spelled wrong before you were compelled to look it up, a troublesome paradox indeed.
Then came Spell Check. If you use a computer, you are familiar with how it works. The computer has its own dictionary, and when you engage the Spell Check device, it stops on any word it doesn’t recognize. Most often, Spell Check offers what it suspects is the correct word and spelling. For example, when I write that something “occured,’’ Spell Check suggests that it “occurred’’ and gives me the option of replacing my misspelled word for the correct word.
Of course, Spell Check is pretty clueless when it comes to proper names. That is why, when you Spell Check a name, for example, Joe Garagiola, Spell Check suggests Joe “Gargoyle.’’
Recognizing that it doesn’t know everything — an attractive quality in computers and people alike — Spell Check gives you the option of replacing or ignoring the suggestion. Click on the Replace box, and the computer makes the switch. Click on the Ignore box, and it leaves the word spelled as is.
You would think that would be safe. But every now and then, we hit Replace by accident. On still rarer occasions, the mistakes go unresolved until the paper arrives on the doorstep of all those retired English teachers.
That happened Wednesday in a story about the University of Arizona’s new medical school in Phoenix. Somehow, we managed to replace a whole bunch of words that were already correct.
So, instead of the acronym “UA’’ for University of Arizona, all references came out as “A.’’ The dean of the school, Merlin Duval became Merlin “Dual.’’ Former UA president Peter Likins became Peter “Liking.’’ NAU (acronym for Northern Arizona University) became “NAY.’’
And my personal favorite (especially since I was out recuperating from surgery and cannot be held responsible for the errors) was what happened to the Translational Genomics Research Institute, which became “Translational Egomaniacs Research Institute.’’
Suffice to say, we are redfaced with embarrassment over the whole affair. We ran the story with the correct spelling in the next day’s paper, but it’s still a sensitive topic for us.
Somehow, though, I suspect the Spell Check bug has hit just about anybody who has ever availed themselves of this modern inconvenience.
Or is it convenience?
I’m not going to worry about it.
I’m sure Spiel Cheek will catch it.