April 11, 2022
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Why Spellcheck is the Enemy of Good Prose

Don’t get me wrong– spellcheck and predictive texting are wonderful inventions and save us all a ton of work. But just as fire can be your best friend, fire and spellcheck can destroy you if you don’t keep them under control.

There are, I think, at least three reasons why "language tech" is treacherous. First, it lures us into turning off our own common sense and diligence. Why proofread when the machine will do it for you? As long as the gibberish can be found in the spellcheck dictionary, it is not flagged as gibberish. So we all hit “send” and the embarrassment is on its way.

Second, language tech tries to think for you, and very often suggests words which are not the idea you’re trying to express, but were* the choice of 99.9% of all other writers before you. So not only does it herd you into being sub-optimum, it herds you into, well, the herd.

My third peeve with technologized writing is that it is American. This only makes sense, because that’s where the profits are made. But Americanized text management has two deficits, at least. First, it is driving us all to spell and construct in an American fashion, robbing us of our local colour. Colour with a “u”. 

But perhaps more important is that American English is the Big Vanilla, a Goldilocks version of our language– not too hot, not too cold, just the right temperature for mass consumption. Certainly America has its fair share, and more, of brilliant writers, but mainstream American English prefers bland, thru and thru. And spellcheck is written in and for American English.

So, yes, spellcheck, predictive texting, and all their relatives are helpful servants, but don’t let them get uppity.


*For example, spellcheck flagged "were" and suggested I meant to say “we’re”. What a fool I would have looked if I had accepted that suggestion. On the other hand, that linguistic abomination "thru" passed with flying colours. Or colors, as the case may be.

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Friday Briefing Archives


The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.

Rita Mae Brown

What I Do

I am an explainer, that is, I deconstruct complexity and re-frame it in understandable terms.

In particular, I explain the secrets of professional success-- things I wish I had known as a beginner lawyer in 1981, but which I had to learn by trial and error (and the occasional epiphany).

Simple yet profound, these secrets are really just specific applications of common-sense life lessons. They are the keys to true professional satisfaction and financial success.

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