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The Horrors of Spell Check


Written by: Lois Kennedy

I am a fairly prolific writer of horror movie reviews, and recently I had to re-format my two hundred or so documents from Microsoft Word to LibreOffice Writer. Therefore, I had to run everything through a different spell check. Anyone who has used a word processor with spell check knows the frustration of perfectly spelled words being corrected because they are not in the word processor’s dictionary. My spelling “errors” have never been all highlighted at once, so I was confronted with a mighty long list of words underlined in red. Having been a competent speller since childhood, a writing tutor for the better part of eleven years, and a teaching assistant for five years (not to mention my BA in English), I can be reasonably confident when it comes to my spelling and grammar. However, Libre insists that not only can it spell better than me, it understands context better than I do. And its suggestions for replacing the words are absolutely ridiculous.

Often the words Libre recommends as substitutes make no damn sense. For example a phrase from House on Haunted Hill (1999), “enter-fucking-tainment,” becomes either “enter-fucking-containment” or “enter-fucking-edutainment.” My made-up word “horror-ish” turns into “horror-dish,” (sounds like a cheesy alternate title for Bitter Feast), “horror-fish” (sounds like a big critter movie from the ‘70s), “horror-wish” (sounds like a cheap ‘80s slasher), and “horror-ssh” (what people who hate horror movies wish horror movies would do). Apparently the word as a whole doesn’t need to make sense as long as all hyphenated sections are complete words. Except when that’s not the case, like when the whole word doesn’t need to make sense as long as part of it is a conventional word. My phonetic spelling of the name “Hfuhruhurr” (from the marvelous film The Man with Two Brains), “hu-furrrr,” becomes “hug-furrrr” or “hoe-furrrr.” Then again, even a nonconventional word will do, in the case of (Ardelia) Mapp from The Silence of the Lambs, since it suggests “Ma pp.” Apparently any word will do as long as it’s not the word that I chose.

Some of the ideas Libre has for revision seem totally random, like replacing “Tommyknockers” with “Magnitogorsk,” a word I’ve never heard of in my life. (“Cabinetmaker” was also suggested, which would make a little more sense, as the aliens in the above film do tend to cobble things together.) “Made-for-T.V.” brings up the suggestion of “spermatophyte.” The perfectly cromulent word “serotonin” is thrown over for “miswritten.” Nonsense words I transcribed from subtitles such as “Aaaaaaah!” and “Glahrlgh” are revised as “Apache” and “glaring.” (Meanwhile, Word humbly declines to offer a spelling suggestion.)

Sometimes Libre’s offerings are amusing and ironic, like replacing “Hellraiser” with “hilarious.” Or sometimes the suggestions are funny but apt, like “Lemarchand” (the maker of the puzzle box in Hellraiser—pardon me, Hilarious) turning into “mishandle.” The recommendation for (Angus) Scrimm is “scream” and the one for (Anne) Heche is “headache.” There are also whimsical re-imaginings of names, such as (Roger) Corman becoming “con man,” (William) Friedkin becoming “fried kin” (I’m a little disconcerted by a word processor that considers “fried kin” a reasonable substitution for any phrase—Word offers “frisking,” for example), (Bill) Mosely becoming “morsel” or “mosey,” (Emilio) Estevez becoming “festive,” Takako (Fuji) becoming “teacake,” (Milla) Jovovich becoming “overfishing,” and (Amanda) Bearse becoming “beastly.” The options for film titles Dreamcatcher and Eraserhead include “cow catcher” and “dunder head.”

Libre can also be a little naughty, suggesting “kinkiness” instead of “jinkies,” “dickiest” (a phrase Word does not acknowledge the existence of in its dictionary) instead of “Darkside,” and “kinky” instead of the name “Pinky.” It’s also a tad racist, at least when it comes to Korean names. For example “Mi-kyung” brings up the suggestions “Mi-yukking” or “Mi-gunky.” (Word suggests “Mi-king,” “Mi-keying,” and “Mi-yang.”)

Spell check in any word processor strikes me as undeservedly smug. “I’ve never heard of the name ‘Duckett,’ it says. “You must have meant ‘ductwork,’ because the sentence ‘I also had a reluctant admiration for ductwork’ is totally rational. Who doesn’t have a grudging fondness for ductwork?” If I relented and let spell check do my revisions for me my reviews would probably be funnier, because they would look like a 200-page game of Mad Libs, but I would prefer they make sense.

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About The Overseer (1669 Articles)
Author of Say No to Drugs, writer for Blumhouse, Dread Central, Horror Novel Reviews and Addicted to Horror Movies.

7 Comments on The Horrors of Spell Check

  1. Great post! Reminds me of the old days of the Amstrad 9512 word processor with its primitive dictionary that would insist on changing names such as Anthony to anchovy and Cleopatra to claptrap. Hence that well known Shakesperean tragedy ‘Anchovy and Claptrap’. Ah! Heady days…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Matthew J. Barbour // December 2, 2014 at 1:11 pm // Reply

    Don’t let the machines think for us! I recall the plot for several post-apocalyptic films where that turned out very bad. lol. This article made me laugh. Are you saying Clive Barker’s Hilarious wasn’t a good movie?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! I’ve been a copy editor for nearly twenty years. I use three dictionaries and several English usage dictionaries. Software programs for spelling or grammar are a waste of time for me. I end of declining nearly all the suggested corrections.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Correction, I end “up” declining nearly all the suggested corrections. Guess I need some coffee!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Fun post. I debate turning off spell-check in my different programs at least once a week because of all the things you mentioned in this post. There are times where I can hardly get through a sentence without it wanting to change every word! It’s mind boggling!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Vitina Molgaard // December 2, 2014 at 6:12 pm // Reply

    After just completing a review I came here and read this. What an excellent choice I made. It is not great fun to have the computer tell me or anyone that they are wrong , especially when you know better. Great post here. I really enjoyed it. Vitina

    Liked by 1 person

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