Re[4]: Grammar Checkers

Subject: Re[4]: Grammar Checkers
From: Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- COM
Date: Thu, 27 Jun 1996 16:12:00 -0600

The "I'm smarter than the stupid box" reaction puzzles me, coming from
people used to computers. Grammar checkers are just another tool, like
spell checkers and, indeed, word processing software. Yes, I can (and
need to be able to) correct grammar by hand.

That's not quite my reaction. Spelling is a mechanical issue. The word is
either spelled right or it is not, and there's little question either way.
Spelling doesn't change based on context. So yes, on my serious work I let
the spell-checker take the first shot. (I said serious work, not e-mail,
folks, so back off that reply button ;{>} )

But there's a difference between the simple mechanical work of checking
spelling and the more complex work of analysing what it is I'm trying to
say. I can catch more grammatical and stylistic errors myself, and I can do
it more reliably. The time it would take for the computer to check it, and
for me to tell it which ones were false alarms, isn't worth the time it
might save in finding the howlers I commit during the first pass.

Spelling is different; since I know the word I'm trying to write, I can
mentally transpose letters easily and thus miss catching some spelling
errors. And when the checker highlights a "wrong" spelling that's actually
right, I can see that quickly, and add it to the dictionary so it won't
bother me with it again. But the kind of grammatical mistakes a grammar
checker will catch are not ones that I'd miss during editing. (Note: I
didn't say I don't commit them, just that I'm good at catching them.) And
there are so many exceptions to most rules that it's quite difficult to do
the equivalent of adding them to the dictionary so they won't bother me
again.

I suppose when grammar checkers become more than simple rule-checkers and
Fog Index calculators I'll take another look at them. But for right now the
benefit they might bring me in finding errors isn't worth the time they
take.

It's not "stupid box," you see. It's "unlearned box," and if and when it
finally *does* learn, we'll talk. ;{>}


Have fun,
Arlen
Chief Managing Director In Charge, Department of Redundancy Department
DNRC 124

Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- Com
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