Spellcheckers

January 17, 2012 by Gabe | [mmd] |

James Hague has an interesting article about the technology of Spellcheckers (by way of Jonathan Christopher). It’s a nice insight.

I remember my first word processor with popup suggestions. It was a shareware application I bought on a 5 & 1/4 floppy from a bin of shareware at a swap-meet in Orange County. Being a young student, I loved the feature. As I typed, the application would popup suggestions for words. It seemed like magic. My memory may be fuzzy, but my recollection is that it was not just word completion. It somehow knew what words I used most commonly and suggested similar words. In a way it was like iOS autocorrect.

The 2012 version of me is skeptical that an application that fit on a 512K disk had that good of an algorithm for word suggestion.[1] If it did, then the 1984 version of me is disappointed with the future of spellchecking technology. I rarely pay attention to spellcheckers now because I tend to use technical language that is poorly handled by spellcheckers.[2]

Autocorrect is both the best and worst part of typing on iOS. It’s great for emails but terrible for technical pieces. Autocorrect on the Mac is even worse.[3] I have a license lying around somewhere for Spell Catcher X, which I used for about a year. The dictionary was more easily customized but after a year of training it, it was not worth updating. It still incorrectly flagged words and the suggestions didn’t fit my writing.

Just a few minutes ago, I caught a piece by Eddie Smith on Practically Efficient about this same problem. He reminds me that I also rely on my TextExpander tweaks. In particular, I find hyphenated words a total pain. There’s little rhyme or reason to the hyphenations now. Rather than try to convince myself there is an accepted standard, I just populate TextExpander with an ever-growing list of hyphenations.

Maybe I take spell checkers for granted now, but spelling is not the biggest problem for me now. It’s style.


  1. In fact it’s very likely that disk contained several other programs. Many of those disks were little grab bags of fun. I never knew what I would get. This was also before every PC needed anti-virus.  ↩
  2. I do really like my custom checker on BBEdit. It checks for my personal weaknesses not just spelling.  ↩
  3. I’ve left BBEdit’s auto-suggest on for the time being. But it’s starting to annoy me.  ↩
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