Autocorrect Shows Us Who’s Boss
I can remember the exact moment I became aware that AutoCorrect was shoving my vintage automobile into a ditch. I was reporting on the introduction of electronic “catalogues”. With a nasty squiggly red underline, spellcheck rejected my spelling of the word and insisted I change it to “catalogs”. I could easily have asked Word to accept my version and that would have ended the autocorrection. Or I could have disabled the feature on Word entirely. But I elected to duke it out, snorting triumphantly every time I overrode the red squiggle challenging me. Eventually I yielded to the streamlined contemporary version. My antique spelling had become an embarrassment, like wearing knickerbockers or a bonnet.
I was relieved to learn that I’m not the only person quarreling with AutoCorrect.”It is an impish god,” laments James Glieck in the New York Times. Glieck’s beef is a not just about minor differences of opinion about spelling, but rather Autocorrect’s aggressive insistence on substituting words in the belief that that is what you really meant. Such as forcing “egocentric” on you when you absolutely meant “geocentric.”
“Who’s the boss of our fingers?” Glieck demands to know. “Cyberspace is awash with outrage. Even if hardly anyone knows exactly how it works or where it is, Autocorrect is felt to be haunting our cellphones or watching from the cloud.”
The issue may seem trivial but it’s not. “The better Autocorrect gets,” maintains Glieck, “the more we will come to rely on it. It’s happening already. People who yesterday unlearned arithmetic will soon forget how to spell. One by one we are outsourcing our mental functions to the global prosthetic brain.”
One thing Glieck overlooks is the spelling of “Autocorrect”. With an angry red squiggle, Spellcheck refuses to recognize its legitimacy. (Microsoft Office’s web page spells it “AutoCorrect”, but as I type it I’m getting red-squiggled!) And while we’re at it, Spellcheck doesn’t recognize “Spellcheck” either!