Untrustworthy Friend: Trust, But Verify, Spellcheck

After editing a killer YA manuscript for a client, I began my customary closing procedure: I ran spellcheck.

Yes, I own several stylebooks and a dictionary or two and have been a copyeditor for nearly a decade now, but I still run everything through the handy-dandy spellchecker.

It’s practically a copyeditor’s motto: You can always benefit from a second pair of eyes. Or, in this case, bytes.

Spellcheck (and its smartphone compatriot Autocorrect) has its merits. I run it after I’ve completed an edit to make sure I haven’t accidentally created any mistakes, see if I missed anything, and if Microsoft has any more brilliant thoughts than I do. And I caught at least 5 or 6 more little changes (including the misspelling of one unusual name!), so, job well done, spellcheck!

I recommend everyone use spellcheck. It’s a great way to slow down and look at your work with a “different brain.”

But, just like the old journalism quote: Trust, but verify.

Spellcheck is far from flawless. It just doesn’t understand the nuances that humans understand. For example, spellcheck gets deeply affronted with every blasted sentence fragment and with using “, then” as a joining clause. Don’t be pedantic, spellcheck. A human can tell that the fragment and that joining clause are used that way for effect, to improve pacing. If I had obediently allowed spellcheck to “correct” every one of those “problems,” the story would have been dramatically slower and it would have killed the conversational tone.

I’m grateful for spellcheck: it’s saved me from embarrassing myself on many occasions. Though I sometimes think it’s atrophying my brain a little because I no longer have to have every little thing memorized, it’s also helpful to see that little red wavy line to make me say “hm, am I doing this the best way?”

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