Recently, a ChicagoNow writing challenge asked me to blog about something I rely on and can’t do without. The first thing that popped into my mind was spell check. For someone who loves to write but is obviously phonetically challenged, this is the best invention since sliced bread.
My struggles with spelling didn’t really emerge until high school and college when I had to produce long compositions. Before that, spelling was one of my best subjects. I could easily memorize the weekly spelling lists and generally got 100 percent on the tests. Then, poof, those correct spellings would vanish from my mind.
Although I’m sure I made numerous spelling errors in high school, no one seemed to care that much. I would get papers or essay tests back with words circled in red, but still received good grades for the content. Also, I most likely avoided challenging words.
Being in college as an English major was another matter. Typing a paper involved tons of white out and a dictionary by my side. And still, I made plenty of spelling errors. There were words I just couldn’t spell correctly no matter how often I looked them up in my dictionary. If I wrote “capasity,” it always looked fine to me.
Finally, a professor took me aside to talk about my poor spelling which marred otherwise good writing. He wasn’t about to give me an “A” for a brilliant essay that included three spelling errors. His explanation was that I must have been taught to read using a whole language approach and had no sense of phonetics. While that made sense, he had no solution to offer me other than to be more careful.
Back in those pre-computer days, there wasn’t much I could do except edit and retype my work, hoping I caught every spelling error. But as I have since learned, my brain could neither remember how to spell certain words nor recognize if a word was misspelled. You see, I have a type of dyslexia that afflicts the part of my brain responsible for correct spelling. That and my lack of phonics instruction have made me totally dependent on spell check. For a more complete description of my malady, check out Steve Hendrix’s Why Stevie Can’t Spell.
Poor spelling plagued me as an English major, high school English teacher, and graduate student. And then the most wonderful thing, the thing I can’t live without, arrived – spell check. Now the squiggly red lines alert me that I have misspelled something and with a right click of the mouse (unless my spelling is so far off that even spell check is confused), my spelling error vanishes. Even if my attempt at spelling a word is so wrong that spell check can’t rescue me, I have another friend I can’t live without – Google. Generally, even the most egregious error can be corrected by googling (spell check doesn’t think that’s a verb but I will go on despite the red squiggly line) it to come up with the right word. You know, ”Did you mean…” Yes, I did. That’s the word.
Reading Hendrix’s piece on his spelling woes, and by the way he is a journalist, I learned folks like us have good company. William Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Melville, Woodrow Wilson, and John Irving were also poor spellers.
For someone who loves to write, being a terrible speller used to be my Achilles heel. Now I can use any word I like to express myself, not just the ones I’m pretty sure I know how to spell. While my issues with spelling probably expanded my knowledge of synonyms as well as my vocabulary, I am most grateful for this technology I can’t live without. Thank you to the geniuses who created spell check.