or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Here is a sentence from a New Yorker article called "Read All About It" by Adam Gopnik on page 21 of the September 28th edition:

Brown's long occult-mystery novels, featuring the intrepid Dr. Robert Langdon, a tenured Harvard professor of something called symbology--a field unknown to both Harvard and spell-check (try it)--are the welcome if improbable million-and-beyond best-sellers of our time, with the latest episode, "The Lost Symbol", now upon us.

Well, I love a challenge! So I did try it, and what do you know? The spellchecker in my Macintosh OS 10.5.8 ("Leopard") doesn't red-flag "symbology". Nor does the spellchecker that Firefox uses in Ubuntu Version 9.04 ("Jaunty Jackalope"). It may not be in the standard Windows spell-checking dictionary, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Symbology may be a made-up field of study but it isn't a made-up word; it's even listed in the Oxford English Dictionary as dating from 1840 and first put down in print by no less than Thomas de Quincey. It is, frankly, stupid to claim that the word is "unknown to spell-check", because it is demonstrably untrue, besides which it says nothing about the validity of the word. ("Jackalope", above, gets red-pencilled by the Mac spellchecker, and isn't that a word? Of course it is.) If a particular string of characters isn't in a particular computer's spellchecker and so gets a warning underline, you don't know that the word doesn't exist, although you may have learned something about the people who compiled the dictionary used by the spellchecker. If a writer can't even be bothered to check to see if the spellchecker's jagged red assertion is true, then that tells you something about the writer, even if it's no more than that he was under a deadline.


Blogger Tomer said...

> a field unknown to both Harvard
> and spell-check (try it)--are the
> welcome if improbable million-

For an harvard or a regular person... a good program that look at is Spell Check Anywhere (SpellCheckAnywhere.Com). It adds spell checking to all programs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009 4:37:00 PM  

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