Arguing with Word

Have you ever had an argument with a word processor?  Did you win?  Did you lose?  Never mind who was right and what inanimate object was wrong.  Being right doesn’t make you a winner.

The greatest mistake writers make with a computer’s dictionary and grammar check is assuming the machine is always right and they are always wrong–including me.  Most often this involves the spellchecker. The greatest mistake that I ever made was typing the word ‘nipple’ when I meant ‘nibble.’  Whop-Do-Whop!  The computer did not disagree.   Boy, was my face red.


Next, comes the watery-eyed laughs from poetry.  I don’t know a lot about poetry, but I know that it is written with the same punctuation as any other writing.  Let’s take this blip:

There once was a man fromNantucket

who—   Oh, no.  No, no.  You’ve heard all those before.


There once was a man named Jack

who carried a mule on his back,

and that’s a fact.


Not like this:


There once was a man named Jack

Who carried a mule on his back,

And that’s a fact.

So, if you wrote the sentence without putting it in poetry form it would look like this:  There once was a man named Jack who carried a mule on his back, and that’s a fact. (See the punctuation is the same, whether it’s poetry or regular writing.  Yet a word processor will disagree, and you’ll have to go back and change all those capitals.)

It would NOT be punctuated like this:  There once was a man named Jack Who carried a mule on his back, And that’s a fact. (See how funny that looks?)


Another one that bothers me is the abrupt end to a piece of dialogue or an interrupted thought.  The word processor insists on this:

“Don’t open that–.”


When it should be without the period:


“Don’t open that–” 


All the computer will give you is this:


“Don’t open that–“  A backward quote at the end.  Ugh, that’s worse. 

So, you have to put the period in the first time you write it, and go back later to take the period out.

Author’s Note:  I don’t mean to sound like a snot, laughing at other people’s mistakes.  We’ve all made mistakes and we’ll make some more.  That’s life.  But if we can’t share and laugh about it, then what’s the point of blogging???

15 thoughts on “Arguing with Word

  1. You are so right, we do rely on spellcheck way too much. For example, I received an email one day for an awards ceremony I was to attend. The email was from the office of the president of the organization I work for. It had all the usual information but the location was interesting. The ceremony was taking place at the Grand Hyatt Hotel but the email stated it was to be at the Grand Busty Hotel. After much laughing and spilling my coffee all over me; I did a spell check and sure enough it replaced Hyatt with Busty. Juat another example of our not checking what we write and send out because of our reliance on computers. By the way, I’m still searching for the Grand Busty Hotel. It sounds interesting.

  2. I try not to rely on spell and grammar checkers, but I have always wondered about writing poetry, where periods, commas and capitalization should be when you have short, little bursts of sentences. You have sort of cleared that up for me. Thanks!

    • Cool. I always try to cut through the gobbled-goop. That’s the basic reason that I decided to take a more conversational tone with the blog. You know, we’re just talking here. Not giving impressive lectures.

  3. I never trust spellcheck. It seems most appropriate to read the text aloud in order to find all the errors. If you had used the sentence this way, “Don’t open that….”, you might have less trouble. An ellipsis will cause less trouble than a hyphen.

    • I read an article once by a big-shot college professor in Writer’s Magazine that said never, ever use those three little dreamy dots. I kind of disagree with that, but hey, who am I to shoot down an important dude.

      My rule of thumb is to use the three little dots when the conversation just peters out or the character’s thoughts wanders away, and the dashes when the sentence abruptly ends because of an interruption. I reason that there is a difference in the two. Unless, of course, I’m in his class.

    • Yeah, poetry and lyrics…that’s a different breed. I ain’t got it. Like Clint Eastwood said in Magnum Force: A man’s got to know his limitations. I just keep my mouth shut when poets are jabbering.

  4. I don’t have the problem with it inserting a period after a dash, maybe because I have some of that autocorrect stuff turned off. But I do have the backward quote after the dash problem. Ugh. I do the quote first then go back and put in the dash. Isn’t it funny how we have to pretend to let Word “win”, then go back and put it right when Word isn’t looking?

    Speaking of quotes, do you ever paste in writing from another program, like Notepad or an email message? Sometimes when I don’t have my document handy, I’ll write a text file in Notepad or write it in an email message to myself. But then when I go to paste it into my document, all the dialogue has the straight quotes instead of the curly ones. Correcting all those quotes would be a good form of torture.

    My biggest mistake was using “puss” when I meant “pus”. More than once. Haha…

  5. There are ways to go in and change the menu. I had to do it when I uploaded to Smashwords. But I’m one of those people that hate change so much that I’ll keep cussing at the old ways, until I’m force to duel with the computer.

    I use to work in a medical clinic. Once I chaperoned for a doctor from India, who told the patient that the wound on his leg was very pussy. Whahaha! I liked that doctor, but when he spoke, I had to stop everything else that I was doing and listen to him. He always told me that he was a life-long vegetarian, but I said: No way. You’re too big. Nobody gets to be 6 feet tall by eating bean shoots.

  6. In general, I don’t think the spellchecker is that great when writing fiction. When I write in my native language, I always have it turned off, because most of the time I just have to tell it to ignore all the “mistakes” it insists I’m making.

    • I would love to read something that reflects your culture. What great calling does a writer have than to represent some insight into his own world? And many readers want to understand, to learn, to be carried away into the exotic. Didn’t Mark Twain bring us the south? Didn’t Fitzgerald bring us the rich? Didn’t Pope, who wrote Coma, bring us the world of medicine? Didn’t that movie/book ‘Precious’ take us into a world that we were only vaguely aware of?

      When you think about it like that, the task seems awesome and important.

      • You’re right, it does seem like an important task. To me, though, it doesn’t feel like a challenge to describe something that I see in my every day life, because that’s just what it is – every day life. I think that to be able to see a culture for what it is, you have to look at it from the outside. When you compare it to something else – that’s when it becomes interesting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s