Hey there fellow word nerds! Welcome to Write Right Monday Night.
What is it about some words that make them look wrong when we type or write them? It could be a word we use often, but there’s something about it that just doesn’t seem right.
Whether I’m typing on my computer or sending a text on my phone, spellcheck is now around to help me out. In fact, as I typed that last sentence, I thought I made a mistake by spelling spellcheck as one word, but spellcheck said it was okay. Then again, spellcheck on my computer at work always insists on trying to correct the word “ad” (as in advertisement) to “add,” showing its disapproval with that judgmental little squiggly red line. I know “ad” is correct, so perhaps I am putting too much trust in it.
Occasionally I’ve been so far off base with word’s spelling that even spellcheck couldn’t figure out what the heck I was talking about, but most of the time a simple right-click of mouse will give me a few helpful suggestions.
I don’t always like to rely on spellcheck. It may be okay for spelling, but it doesn’t know squat about choosing the appropriate word. We’ve all seen the hilarious and often embarrassing results of letting auto-correct call the shots for us. Maybe I’m “old school” (or more likely, just old) but I still like to refer to the good old reliable dictionary. On second thought, I guess I’m not that old school because I rarely pull out the big heavy brick of a book. My iPhone has a free Merriam-Webster app that I really love. Or as I like to refer to “her,” simply Merriam.
Before you historical types get all hysterical on me, I know that Merriam Webster is not a person. To make a long story short, Noah Webster wrote The American Dictionary of the English Language way back when. After Webster’s death, G & C Merriam Co. purchased the rights from his estate and added their name to the title. None of this is relevant to the point I’m trying to make, and there will not be a quiz later. But if you’re the type who needs all the background, you can read about it here.
My point is that no matter how much you read or write, the dictionary is still relevant after hundreds of years of existence. No one can possibly know how to spell every word in the English language, and even superior wordsmiths will occasionally experience what I described above – the feeling that a word just doesn’t look right. And I, for one, actually kind of enjoy stumbling upon a word that I’d never heard before. There’s no one better than Merriam to give me a quick, concise, and correct definition or pronunciation. I think of Merriam as a reliable and consistent friend. The kind that will pick you up at the airport or help you move all of your crap from one 3rd floor apartment to another without complaint.
Recently I was working on a blurb for the newsletter that I write for my firm’s clients. For reasons I won’t go into here, I was using the term “scaredy-cat.” I typed S-C-A-R-E-D-Y, but it didn’t look right. Since I didn’t include “-C-A-T,” spellcheck wasn’t having it either. I buzzed my friend Jen at her desk and we discussed the various spelling options. (Neither of us apparently had anything better to do that day – please don’t tell the boss.) Her final conclusion was “it looks fine to me – but heck – I don’t know” to which I replied “never mind, I’ll check with Merriam.”
Of course “scaredy” is not a word, hence spellcheck’s displeasure. According to Merriam however, “scaredy-cat” is just fine. I buzzed Jen at her desk again to tell her what Merriam had to say about it. (Wow. It really must have been a slow day at the office.) “Huh!” she said “that bitch writes one book and thinks she knows it all!”
The moral of the story is that no matter how sophisticated we may become, the humble dictionary – whether it’s the giant old tome or a new snazzy app – is sometimes a writer’s most trusted friend. You can turn to Merriam (or her old buddy Oxford), even when you need to find out about something silly – like a word that’s not even really a word like “scaredy.”
Next time you’re stumped, call my friend Merriam and tell her I sent you. She’s a bit of a know-it-all, but she won’t let you down.