Friday, September 23, 2005


The weaknesses of Microsoft Word's grammar checker are by now well known, via Sandeep Krishnamurthy's eye-opening demonstration. And the inherent weaknesses of any spellchecker should be obvious: the inability to distinguish between their and there, for instance, or to know that proof read should be written as proofread. Yesterday I found a further glitch when reading over a document: Word's spellchecker didn't flag the typo ands.

According to the online Oxford English Dictionary, ands is a word, at least sort of. AND, always in all caps, is a transitive verb, meaning "to combine (sets, binary signals, etc.) using a Boolean AND operator." Sample OED sentence: "The program for plot ANDs X with 7." It's also conceivable that someone might pluralize the conjunction: "This sentence uses too many ands." But wouldn't it make better sense to omit ands from Word's standard dictionary and allow users of Boolean operators to add the word to a custom dictionary? Just asking.

As my wife Elaine Fine has pointed out to me, Word's spellchecker also recognizes Julliard as correct. But the music school is Juilliard. The spellcheckers in both AbiWord and the Writer component of let ands go by, but they both flag Julliard as misspelled. Both programs are freeware, which in this case means that you get what you don't pay for--greater accuracy in spelling.

comments: 3

Sam Sejavka said...

Always interested in anyone who attempts to figure out the wrongs of MS Word.

I've been using it for probably fifteen years and, particularly, of late, I've begun to get the feeling that, [given its pervasiveness], it is somehow dumbing down the English language.

I'm trying to put my suspicions into words at the moment,[for a web journal article], but it's hard to put a finger on it. It must revolve around the grammar and spelling checks, and the thesaurus.[And living in Australia there's also an issue of cultural imperialism]

I may be over-reacting and may never succeed in sensibly expressing myself on this, but I was wondering, having read your post [and Sandeep Krishnamurthy's], if you might have thoughts on the matter?

Michael Leddy said...

Sam, having switched to a Mac and other apps -- Bean and Pages (part of iWork '08), I no longer think about Microsoft Word. : )

Andrew said...

In which case, it becomes not only necessary, but more handy to manually proof-read. Of course, the temptation to use a grammar checker is higher when working 'till one in the morning.