my latest way-too-offensive-to-appear-in-public comment on the news blog

Hang on to your hats people, this one may shock those of a nervous disposition. In response to the introduction of a new! improved! spellchecker that also polices your posts for grammatical errors and stylistic infelicities (I thought that was my job? what will become of my Sword of Pedantry now?) I enquire:

When you say ‘English’, do you mean American English?

I know, I know. I must hang my head in shame for daring to hint, yet again, that not everyone in the world is American. How can I express my contrition? I will just have to try my best to swap my ‘ise’s for ‘ize’s, spell ‘colour’ as if I were writing CSS, and then I should pass muster with the Homogenizer and there will be no more trouble. (Or should that be ‘troble’?)

15 Comments »

  1. Ray said

    Clearly we non-Americans just use extra vowels to be show offs. I think every spell checker should have a little flag to denote the fact that you’ll get pulled up for not uzing z in place of s and adding in a u when the US doesn’t.

    And how dare you suggest that something Matt likes may not be universally useful? You’re just asking for trouble missy!

    • Troble. I am asking for troble. If we’re going to declare war on the u, let’s do it properly.

      • Cat said

        But other languages are coming.. I suppose Penguin will be higher rated that British English?

        I didn’t know this theme automatically adds new comments without refreshing. That’s pretty cool..

  2. Gotta love that the ATD is showing in the footer a “An Automattic Invention” logo. Gotta love how they give credit where credit is due. Oh wait, I said the same thing when they took over Gravatar and changed the site to make it look like they had created the service.

    • You are not the only person to have noted this.

      I still can’t figure out what the deal on commercial use is, either. Seems to me the service has to be restricted to Automattic’s servers and accessed remotely, a la Akismet, if they want to charge anyone for it while maintaining GPL-compliance.

      • Actually it sounds like they’re going to make the server code available. At least that’s how I understand Matt’s “if you want to run the code yourself you can do whatever you like with it.”

        Of course one can’t do that with Akismet since Matt gets confused with the server software and the filters. Typepad and SixApart can separate the two and make available the server software upon request. Not sure why Matt can’t do the same with Akismet.

  3. It appears to support both, to answer your question about British vs American English.

    I typed “coluor” and it suggested both “color” and “colour.” If you’re a Brit who slips into American English (or like me, a Yank who slips into British English), it won’t make you consistent. But if you provide a spelling that isn’t accurate in either variant, it seems to suggest both. I think that’s a reasonable solution until they’re ready to offer specific dictionaries.

  4. I thought the plugin was a great idea — I don’t do a great job proofreading — until I tried the demo on their site. It flagged all sorts of perfectly valid grammatical structures and even complained that my use of “encountered” should be reduced to “met.”

    Not only will the plugin homogenize language across blogs that utilize it, but it’ll also encourage a dumbing down of copy. Wouldn’t want to offend the average American by using one of them there school words!

    I also like that on the After the Deadline, at the bottom, it says, “An Automattic Invention.” *Their* invention? Really? Perhaps “An Automattic Acquisition” would be more appropriate… Unless the plugin itself suggested “acquisition” was too fancy a word?

    • rsmudge said

      The plugin is set with the style checking options disabled by default. All of them are turned on for the demonstration but I realize they do not benefit every writing style. This “dumbing down of copy” comes from a writing style known as Plain English: http://www.plainlanguage.gov/

      • KB said

        Too many people confuse “plain” with “insipid”. Writing plainly is about avoiding jargon and being pithy.

        Unfortunately, this dissolution of language parading as The Plain Language Movement can only lead to a scene from 1984.

        Certain syntactical choices can enliven stale writing, as it should. If it forces a reader to pick up a dictionary, so be it–it won’t bite.

        Rather than defaulting to lowbrow language, one should strive to use the most contextually appropriate language.

        • Exactly. Trying to implement universal style guidelines for a site like this is a waste of time. If I’m writing a tech tutorial, OK, I might want my language to be as near to invisible as I can make it; no ambiguity, no irony, no rhetorical figures. The same does not apply if I’m writing about politics, or films, or lolcats. People would stop reading pretty damn quickly if it did. I don’t want bloggers to be scared of language. I want people to feel able to make up their own words and break the rules and play fast and loose with capital letters. Language is not a medium through which meaning is transmitted; it is the meaning itself.

          Fortunately, I think most native speakers have a sounder grasp of these things than they probably realise, and are unlikely to take to being dictated to by a machine. If you don’t consider yourself to have a reasonable degree of literacy you are highly unlikely to be blogging in the first place ;) . The main value of this tool will be for non-native speakers who want to double-check that they are actually making sense. In that sense, it’s useful, the same way as spellchecking is useful for dyslexics and those who are physically unable to type accurately. It’s just not especially relevant to anyone else.

          • KB said

            It’s been a while; I haven’t been watching this thread as closely as I should. My apologies.

            Fortunately, I think most native speakers have a sounder grasp of these things than they probably realise, and are unlikely to take to being dictated to by a machine.

            My worry is that though these native speakers do have a sounder grasp of things than they realise, they may give more weight to the dictations of the machine than they should.

            Though it may not be right thinking, many people equate machine with correctness, especially when it comes to “rules.” It’s how many people are trained (at least as I’ve seen in the US school system)–use a calculator to double check your work, run spell check, run grammar check, etc.Therefore, if the machine says–even if merely a suggestion–that the word should be “met” instead of “encountered”, some people may begin to doubt the merits of their writing.

            It’s unfortunate, but true, that many people don’t have so firm a view of writing creatively as you, native and non-native speakers alike.

  5. Heather said

    The comment moderation queue on the News Blog grows very long after announcements like this one. Your comment wasn’t deleted, it just hasn’t been moderated yet. This is because we’re taking time out to diligently answer your question and others’.

    Variations like “color” and “colour” are both correct with AtD. However, I’m very aware that there are other differences between American English and British English, so I’m checking with Raffi to get you a verified answer. You’ll see it on the News Blog once it’s confirmed.

    • I wonder if Heather has noted the others questioning her response from last time. And when did Automattic actually start answering questions? Did their policy change?

    • I don’t cry ‘censorship’ until comments made after mine have been approved…

      There are of course other varieties of English besides UK and US, but if the Canadians and the Aussies aren’t hassling you I suppose they can be safely ignored ;)

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