My wife was recently asked to recommend a supplier… “I have no hesitation in recommending this company,” she wrote, “who we have used on a regular basis.”
“Really?” Came the reply, causing her to re-read what she had sent – and discover that she had typed the ‘s’ and the ‘u’ of ‘used’ in the wrong order (work it out).
Of course, spellchecker didn’t pick up her mistake, because there were no incorrect spellings. And there were no grammar problems highlighted either. And even if she had read it back to herself before hitting the ‘send’ button, she probably wouldn’t have even picked it up – we’ve all seen that ‘study’ about how most people can read a sentence perfectly clearly even if the letters of the words are all in the wrong order. We see what we expect to see.
One of my favourite spellchecker mishaps is the story of the well-intentioned employee who wrote to one of his colleagues, ‘I know how busty you are…’ when of course he meant ‘busy.’ Hmmm. And then there’s the whole genre of autocorrect disasters, not to mention good old-fashioned misspelling: I still can’t believe how many people in this industry confuse ‘stationary’ with ‘stationery.’
I could go on, and you probably have your own favourites. The lesson is obvious: whilst it’s always a good idea to run spellchecker over your work before submitting it, don’t rely on it to get you out of trouble because it misses important mistakes. There’s no substitution for a careful read-through, preferably with a fresh pair of eyes.