Spellchecking -- Bits of Bull No. 341
Date: Thu, 28 Sep 95 12:49:45 -0700
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: Spellchecking -- Bits of Bull No. 341
Excerpted-from: BONG Bull No. 341!
SPELLCHECKER BLUES NO. 674. Omar L. Gallaga of The (University of Oklahoma)
Oklahoma Daily (email@example.com) finished up his story and
hit the spelling checker when, much to his surprise, oh, it's so horrible,
let him tell it...
"Imagine my surprise the other day when, while editing a story that
contained a name like 'Witbeck,' our Baseview NewsEdit spellchecker came up
with, as its first choice, the word 'Wetback.'
"After going on a little rant, I calmed down, figuring some malicious
hack had, with winsome glee, entered a whole slew of naughty and offensive
words at some point in this software's residency on my computer.
"Imagine my further surprise when a friend at the Muskogee Phoenix,
whose paper is going to pagination, got a fresh copy of NewsEdit installed
on her computer. After hearing my tirade, she tried out 'Witbeck,' and got,
"She complained immediately to the product support lady from Baseview,
who at least pretended to be shocked. I think her exact words were, 'That
shouldn't be there!'"
WORDS. (Foreign BONGers may need to know that "wetback" is a racial epithet
describing an illegal immigrant who swims the Rio Grande River into Texas,
i.e. a Mexican or person of Mexican descent, and is taboo.)
We asked and Jack Rosenzweig (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Baseview answered,
"Unfortunately, it does appear to be in the dictionary we use (the same one
used by Claris, among others). We license our dictionaries from either
Microlytics or InfoSoft, depending on what you need or who you to talk to.
I believe InfoSoft bought Microlytics as a subsidiary.
"Unfortunately we can't edit the main dictionary, so we provide two
user dictionaries, one additive and one negative, (meaning it contains words
that the main dictionary thinks are OK and will flag them for the user).
This negative dictionary is something we just released last week with a new
version of our software.
"Not that two wrongs make a right, but I also tried MS Word 5.1 and
Quark 3.31, and wetback is a valid word in both dictionaries, though XPress
flagged it, suggesting 'wetback' or 'wetbacks' as alternatives. Go figure!"
HEREWITH THE LESSON. After weeks of laughs at spelling checker errors,
obviously that little imp of the computer-editing pantheon is no perfect
angel. Back in the days when copy editors were grumpy perfectionists with
pale skin, hunched backs and cigar breath, upper echelons could only
contemplate the mystery of ablatives in appositions and didn't have to know,
either, the relationship of conditionals to subjunctives.
Hiring now tends toward the cheerful rosy-cheeked end of the spectrum.
Publishers and M.E.'s -- virtually none of whom rose from the ranks of
deskers -- assume that a spell checker and the other bells and whistles will
turn a recent grad into Conan the Grammarian, and for half the price and a
fifth of the sick days off. The results are often hilarious.
But still, congratulations to the coming generation. It was a student
editor who discovered this little landmine in the system and demonstrated
that desks still need smart humans on the line who don't simply punch the
© 1995 Peter Langston