Alert! Alert! Spellcheck, Autocorrect, Grammar, and the Copyediting Mantra

Autocorrect and I are mortal enemies. I mean, who isn’t mortal enemies with autocorrect? Yes, some funny conversations do come up when my phone autocorrects Jessica to Jesus, but in its entirety, what does it really do for people? The internet seems to think it’s the ultimate meme generator. Its creators believe that it’s there to make texting easier- which, in some cases, it does. Yet in an age of brb and cul8r’s, does accurate spelling and grammar in texting conversations really matter?

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For a grammar nazi like myself, it 1000% does. I’m the kind of person that will send a text, read it over, swear to myself at autocorrect’s corrections, and then send three more texts correcting whatever autocorrect changed for me. Yet for others, it just doesn’t matter; after all, as most people think, it’s not an academic essay, you don’t need citations, and as long as the person receiving the text understands the meaning, what’s the difference between that and taht?

That isn’t all that autocorrect changes in writing though, and the next sin of easy-grammar-fixes comes from online spellcheckers as well. Here’s where we get into the grammatical portion of the issue, and the portion that drives me absolutely up the wall. Spellcheck specifically has the basic rules of grammar written into its software. That means that it can recognize that a apple is wrong, and an apple is correct. Yet it won’t recognize all of the cases in which then and than are in the wrong spots (even now, it’s telling me that my sentence should read “and then,” which is correct in theory and wrong in practice), which brings me to the most important issue with both autocorrect and spellcheck: it breaks one of the copyeditors sacred laws.

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I SHALL NEVER INTRODUCE AN ERROR INTO A TEXT. I can’t count the number of times I had to repeat my oath in my copyediting class, but I can speak to the importance of the basic premise. As a copyeditor, I am the last line of defense between grammatical errors and the public. My job is to remove these errors, not introduce them; to do so would be a breach of the trust put to me by those who give me their work. Yet this rule, this mantra, this basic law of editing is something that spellcheck and autocorrect break on a daily, if not hourly, basis around the world. They change words to words the writers didn’t intend. They change than to then in places it shouldn’t be. They breach the basic laws of trust given to them by unknowing writers, and leave those poor, unfortunate writers left in a pool of bad grammar, errors, and the self-doubt that comes from those damn blue and red squiggly lines underneath the words you have chosen.

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Am I calling for an immediate removal of all spellcheck and autocorrect from the entire planet? Well, I’m not feeling that harsh. Do I advocate that instead of being reliant on a computer that will never be as smart as a human brain when it comes to the English language? Absolutely. We writers, we editors, and we users of the English language need to know the rules of our language so that we can take up arms against the evils of bad grammar and work towards becoming a unified, good-grammared people.

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*disclaimer: Remember that feeling of uncertainty I talked about with the red squiggly line under a word? I’m experiencing that with autocorrect’s rejection of good-grammared being a word.



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