It’s all just a click away… In our technologically advanced (but progressively lazy) world, gadgets do all the thinking for us. Google Maps has made the need to memorise directions redundant, a dictionary or thesaurus is but a mouse click away, and your word document not only formats your writing for you and allows a choice of fonts, it even checks your work for spelling and grammar errors.
And now this spellchecker has extended its presence to emails, web pages and online dictionaries. What do you think goes into the construction of such an app?
The logical answer seems to be: feed words into the computer so that it may compare user errors against those, and alert by underscoring them with a wavy red line. In which case, the more words stored for reference, the better, right? Actually, no. Boffins at the spellcheck and predictive text departments of Google and Microsoft think 90,000 words to be an optimal number; any more than that, and a wrongly spelled word could remain uncorrected because it was identical to a word in the larger pool.
For example, the word ‘taka’ is more frequently a misspelling of take than a reference to the Bangladeshi currency. Hence, it’s more useful if a few people who write about that currency were slightly inconvenienced, than if the spelling errors of the many more people who simply wrote ‘take’ wrongly were overlooked.
What about grammar, then? That’s a constant battle for the IT specialists, thanks to the many vagaries of the English language compared to the very specific syntax and grammar of the specialists’ own computer programming languages. The earliest programs checked for punctuation and style inconsistencies rather than for any actual grammatical errors. Later ones identified trite and clichéd phrases that needed weeding out to smarten the copy. This had an added advantage: identifying phrases pilfered from other online sources, thereby making it easier to nab plagiarists.
The only criticism (probably a valid one) levelled at these programs is that they encourage laziness because you no longer need to know correct spelling and grammar inside your own head.