Spell-checker pulps cookbook


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An embarrassing cookbook shows how Word features can bite back.

Down in Australia, copies of ‘The Pasta Bible’ might become high priced curiosities after the book has been withdrawn and destroyed.

The reason is an embarrassing typo caused by trusting a spell-checker and maybe auto-correct being too helpful. We don’t know if Microsoft Word was used in writing the book but it’s a reasonable bet.

A recipe for ‘Tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto’ suggests spicing with “freshly ground black people” – oh dear. Unless Aussies have a cannibalistic-side we assume they meant ‘black pepper’.

( Perhaps it could lead to a 21st Century version of ‘Soylent Green’ with the famous line changed to “Tagliatelle is people!” )

It shows up two ways in which Word features, normally very useful, can bite back.

Spell-check is really useful, especially since Word added the red squiggly line to highlight words that Word’s dictionary doesn’t recognize. The downside is that misspelled word which spells another word won’t get a red squiggle. Pepper/People, now/know, bit/bite and many others.

It’s all too easy to scan a document looking for the red squiggles – we all do it in haste. Of course we really need to properly proof read the document by actually reading it.

The other problem is more subtle – we wondered how ‘pepper’ became ‘people’ in the first place? Maybe auto-correct changed the word and the author didn’t notice?

Auto-correct looks for common spelling errors and automatically changes the word – try typing ‘cxan’ is changed to ‘can’ as soon as you press space or fullstop/period. The ‘cx’ combination is a common mistake because the keyboard letters are next to each other.

Similarly ‘poeple’ is changed to ‘people’ by Word’s auto-correct. ‘Pepper’ and ‘people’ share the same first two letters while the third letters ‘p’ and ‘o’ are next to each other on the keyboard.

Who knows what happened between brain, keyboard and Word as the fateful recipe was typed.

That leads to the other danger when proof-reading – seeing what should be on the page not what’s actually typed there. At Office-Watch.com we know that danger all too well .

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