October 14th, 2007

#633: Spell check is ruining the language.

English is full of homonyms.

A homonym, for the grammatically and phonetically challenged, is a word that sounds exactly--or almost--like another word. Here are common examples:

your, you're
to, too, two
there, they're, their
pedal, peddle
eminent, imminent
here, hear
except, accept

...and a host of others.

And 99.997% of the time it drives me nuts to see someone use the wrong one. Particularly when it's a professional writer--or someone who should be professional--doing it.

One memorable Foxtrot strip shows Jason typing the following sentence:

"Mary hat a lid tell lam."

He hits spellcheck and the computer reports no errors. Well, all the words are spelled correctly. But that's the problem with spellcheck: it's not context-sensitive.

Any dork can write a spell checker. All it does is parse text and compare letters between space characters with a list of words. If the block of letters doesn't match any word in the list, the spell checker flags it as "misspelled". But the flipside of that is that if the word matches any word on the list, it is not flagged even if it's the fricking wrong word.

I don't know if anyone ever wrote a context-sensitive spell checker. I know that Word has a grammar checker which runs at the same time the spell checker does. Unfortunately that grammar checker sucks ass, I always turn it off because it flags things I know are perfectly fine; generally grammar checkers are not well-suited to dealing with fiction, and spell checkers are not well-suited to dealing with science fiction. (Especially if you have a lot of aliens in your stories. I would love to have gotten a look at Niven and Pournelle's "user dictionaries" when they were writing Footfall....)

Whenever I read Knights of the Dinner Table I am incredulous. Jolly Blackburn edited a freaking magazine and he still fills the thing with all kinds of errors. He frequently writes "here, here" when he means "hear, hear", for example.

And don't even get me started on "peddle, pedal". You don't peddle a bicycle, not unless you are trying to sell it. When you use your feet to propel the bicycle via the crank under the seat, you pedal a bicycle. The guy selling hot dogs from a cart on the corner, he is peddling. He's peddling hot dogs; he is not pedaling hot dogs! Damn it! Hot dogs don't have pedals! Fuck!

And while we're on it, damn it, they are not petals. Flowers have petals. Bikes have pedals. (Most spell checkers won't let "petaling" past without a quibble, but I've seen it.)

"Imminent" means something is about to happen. You can't be an "imminent" expert on anything. "My expertise is impending! Watch out! [bam] Okay! I am now the leading expert!" You can have an imminent danger. But if you mean someone is famous, he is eminent.

It's less difficult to have an "eminent danger" but it's not a construction that's typically used.

You can't look at a forum or discussion board on the internet without running into the most commonly misused homonyms, "your, you're", "to, too, two" and "there, they're, their". The misuse of these has become so common I hardly even notice them any more.

I know I can't expect perfect spelling and grammar in forums and message boards and such; and I don't. But when the medium is text, you should try to convey your meaning as clearly as you can. And if you are being paid by someone to write an article, column, or comic, you should make sure your grammar and spelling are correct.

Still, I do expect people to write English, not some pidgin internet-speak. I won't even bother reading someone who substitues "ur" for "your", "u" for "you", "r" for "are", and so on. That kind of shorthand has its place, in text messages and instant messages, but if you are leaving a post in a discussion thread, you're just being lazy. If you can't be bothered to type "you" instead of "u" I'm not going to be bothered trying to wade through your drivel.

The more important the internet becomes to our economy, the more vital literacy is going to become--and it's already vital. I just wish I knew how to fix the problem.

#634: Damn it

They just keep coming.



Agustin Meyers attempts to hook me up with women who wish to cheat on their significant others. I'm not interested in that kind of relationship, Agustin, so shove it.

Alexandria Perdue informs me of some kind of escort registrar. The problem is, I've already got an Escort I want to get rid of. Maybe I can register my Escort on that site and someone will buy it.

I am congratulated by No Problem with, "Good Erection"! Thank you! I'd like to thank the academy and to dedicate this award to....

Lauren Summers warns me, "Get ready for sex in 15 min". I have been waiting "15 min" since 2003--about four years now--and still no sex has happened to me. Damn it. I hate it when the sex is late.

* * *

These precious few were winnowed from 27 messages in my spam box. Many were repetitions of earlier spam, and I dislike recycling wisecracks. Several of them were the same subject from different users.

But it's pretty easy to make fun of spam, because it's so frickin' stupid most of the time. I realize that the humor I use here is a kind of snide, sarcastic humor rather than the full-on "HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! THAT'S SO FUCKIN' FUNNY!" kind of humor. It's the smirking kind of "heh" humor.

This is why I would never make it as a comedian.

#635: Halloween decoration is a "hate crime"?

Halloween decoration is a hate crime!

"We're not casting spells against people, we're just worshipping the moon, the goddess, the Earth."

Okay...so what does a classic Halloween witch have to do with you? If you're a Wiccan/pagan/whatever, what does the green-skinned witch in a pointy hat have to do with you and your religion anyway?

People like this woman insist that all that stuff--casting spells, brewing potions, making pacts with infernal creatures, etcetera--isn't what Wicca is about (or paganism or whatever) yet she gets her panties in a bunch when a neighbor hangs up a Halloween decoration which evokes that kind of character.

Most of the time they claim that the classic "witch" is not representative of them and their religion, but the instant someone sets one up as a Halloween decoration suddenly it's a "hate crime"?

Either the classic witch from folklore--who is evil, casts spells, turns people into frogs, makes pacts with Satan, etc--either that is what you are, in which case the guy's decoration is a "hate crime"; or else that is not what you are, in which case it's just a Halloween decoration after all. You can't have it both ways.