How your automatic spelling checker is like a tyrant—an arrogator and a dictator, a control freak, a stickler, a monocrat, a fusspot, a pedant, a faux-purist, an anti-perfectionist, a saboteur, an autarch, a czar, a usurper, a disciplinarian, a despot, a vandal and worse, and why that is so much like big government.
If you are encumbered as I am by a public school education and blessed by a degree of dyslexia, or tend to be thinking ahead of your fingers, and lack the coordination or attention span necessary to keep your digits focused, you have no doubt done battle with the automatic spell-check widget built into your writing software program. I just realized that I have been engaged in this war for almost half of my adult life—just now—an hour ago, when I yet again came across a misspelling in my own work that was not mine. In fact, I had corrected the mistake several times before, always thinking I had forgotten to do it in the last proofreading. But in this case I just happened to still have the yellow sticky attached and knew I had been diligent. Unbeknownst, the spelling Gestapo had been keeping an eye on me. The common nonstandard word ‘squozen,’ the past participle of ‘squeeze,’ had mysteriously become ‘sqoze.’ Now, it seems that the secret dictionary police can’t spell either. At least I had a purpose to my abuse.
I began writing on typewriters sixty years ago and was forced then to confront my atrocious spelling habits and grammatical lapses as something of a monster inside me—a sort of tapeworm with tentacles to my fingers. It does not matter that I know the difference between to, too, two, or tu, I am liable to write one or the other whenever I mean another. (Lets not go into the psychological aspect of this for the moment. My purpose here is elsewise.) Those manuscripts from the ancient times are riddled with my lexic profligacies. (And don’t tell me ‘lexic’ is not in your dictionary. That is your dictionary’s problem, not mine. There should be such a word, and it is easily understood, and that is a part of the point I am making.) Not only do I tend to misspell, misuse and abuse the language, I like to make things up! Reading one of those old manuscript pages becomes a chore now, even to me—with the mix of mistakes and attempted creativity becoming impossible to follow and the intention of the moment lost in mind.
With the knotting of my fingers over the years I have stopped using typewriters altogether. Those wonderously levered devices are just works of machine-art to me now, but I love them still. By using a computer and a software gizmo to write since the mid-1980’s, spell check became a friend. When it benignly highlighted or underlined something I had written that did not conform to the orthodox religion of Mr. Webster, I could correct my mistake or hit a key to ever after accept this divergence. All was well.
However, over the years, odd characteristics revealed themselves in the software, like a ghost in the machine. Tabs I had eliminated, returned. Or tabs I had never made, were made. That sort of thing. But the rebel spelling usually held. Now, this is no longer the case. The software insists. It doesn’t remember my alterations or won’t accept them. If I turn spell check off, I am back to square one—my worst habits will abound. But if I keep it around, it will do its dirty work despite me.
It’s clear that the authorities want me to obey the rules. I get that. That is the way governments are. And I will not.
Now, the language, a tool of communication that has changed generation upon generation, will only improve if allowed. I don’t like that. Why should any authority be the arbiter of what is better or worse? The reader, the public, the user, should determine that. If it is not to your taste, move along. If you ax me, Chaucer had it right. And if what I write freely is unintelligible, it will be forgotten. So be it. But if I am remembered at all, I want it to be for my own words, and not those of an impersonal and mechanical maven.
Here I stand (or sit).