Thursday, April 1, 2021

Assorted Magical Spills

The comments section has been pretty dry lately, so I’ve gone digging through my list of “things to talk about,” trying to come up with a semi-interesting topic. I was about to fall back on recycling some general writing/publishing stuff from one of the other blogs I used to keep and then I thought “hey, you know what we haven’t talked about lately? Spelling!”

More importantly, when computers try to spell.

Three really common features these days are autocomplete, autocorrect, and spellcheckers. I’m betting the device you’re reading this on has at least two of them. Maybe all three. There’s also a good chance you’ve shut at least one of them off. Because.... well, they’re not that ducking great when you get down to it. Yeah, sure, some of them build up custom dictionaries or preferences, but even those can have issues.

Truth is, the more complex and nuanced we get with language, the less these things work. Because they’re tools. And that’s what tools do. They don’t replace skills, they just help focus them.

Think of it this way. I’m guessing you’ve got a hammer, right? Maybe it’s in that drawer in the kitchen (or was it in the office...?). Maybe you’ve got a little emergency toolbox with some basics in it. Maybe you’ve got a big rolling tool chest out in your garage with four different hammers and a rubber mallet and that other hammer you loan out to people who come over and ask if they can  borrow your tools. Anyway, wherever it is, you’ve got a hammer, right?

But we accept that a hammer only does so much. Owning a hammer doesn’t instantly mean I can now build a bookshelf or a rocking chair or a new deck out back. I’m more handy than some folks thanks to a few years of film and theater work, but I’ve got two friends who are professional carpenters and they both make me look completely unqualified to even own a toolbox.

And we all get this, right? The tool doesn’t amplify ability or replace it. It just allows me to use that existing ability better. If I didn’t have the skills to build a rocking chair before buying a hammer, owning one’s not going to change anything. And if I’m convinced holding a hammer suddenly does give me abilities and skills... well, I’m probably about to hurt myself.

(weird fun fact—the majority of cases where men lose a finger or toe involve them using a new tool. Seriously)

Spellchecker is a tool. So is autocorrect. And autocomplete. They can make things faster and more efficient, but only if I know what I’m doing in the first place.

For example...

faze vs. phase – one of these you grow out of

feet vs. feat – one of these is a measurement

losing vs. loosing –one of these is a release

week vs. weak—one of these is not that strong

bear vs. bare—one of these is a bit revealing

sconces vs. scones—one of these you eat

All of these are words I’ve seen recently in articles, headlines, and so on. And in every one of these cases... they should’ve been using the other one. But if I’m trusting my spellchecker to know more than me, it’s just not going to end well.

Seriously, computers are ducking idiots. They really are. Remember when I talked about Watson, the IBM supercomputer that was specifically built to understand language and nuance and crush opponents on Jeopardy? Do you remember how his success rate ended up working out?

If Watson isn’t going to be able to pick up the slack, why would I think the spellchecker they bolted on to my word processor at the last minute is going to be better?

Learn to spell. If I want to do this professionally, it’s not enough to have the tools. I need the knowledge that makes them useful. Cause if not... I’m just hammering away wildly.

Next time...

Honestly, the next thing on my list is an overdue update of the FAQ. But to be honest, nothing’s really changed since the last time I updated it (well, nothing I can talk about, anyway). So I’ve got... hmmmmmm, well a question about plot we didn’t get to during the WonderCon Writers Coffeehouse. Or maybe talk about my old trunk novel a bit?

Any preferences? Drop ‘em down below.

And then go write.

4 comments:

  1. I've been using Grammarly and LanguageTool, both take context into account when suggesting words. Not perfect, but a lot better than vanilla spellcheck.

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  2. I never did learn how to spell. Thesaurus and spellchecker are my lifeline. Probably why I never won spelling bees as a kid, and now have to read through my entire manuscript many times to make sure the spelling is correct. As a so called grown up.

    What is your trunk novel? Curious!

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    Replies
    1. As in, what *is* a trunk novel, or what's my personal trunk novel?

      First answer would probably be a blog post. Second answer is The Suffering Map, which actually has its own tag there on the right. :)

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  3. Whenever I have the least bit of doubt about which spelling is correct, I do a quick (built-in) thesaurus check and it will say: "No you idiot, message, not massage."

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