One of SmartEdit’s checks has been singled out by users as the cause of much frustration and hair pulling. Not because there’s anything wrong with the check itself, or the manner in which it presents its results. More because it makes the writer question their own understanding of the English language, and that can be painful for any writer.
The trouble maker is the List of Possibly Misused Words. The purpose of this check is to pull out every instance of a particular set of words — words that are often misused in place of similar sounding or similarly spelled words by a small portion of writers. That misuse may be unintentional misuse due to a lack of understanding of which of the two words should be used. Or it may be unintentional due to a misspelling or typo that will not be caught be a spell checker.
Here’s an extract from the result set for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz — a terrible choice of book for a demo, as it can hardly be called unedited. You should see what happens when you run a 200,000 word fan-fiction novel through SmartEdit.
The grid presents the writer with a list of words used next to the sentence fragment where they were found, along with a possible alternate word that the writer might have meant to use instead. In 98% of cases, the word will have been used correctly, but in a small number of cases — or a large number, depending on how good your knowledge of the English language — the wrong word will have been used.
And here is where the frustration often sets in. In some cases, the decision is easy to make: a canon shoots balls, a cannon wears black and looks solemn. In others, many of us have to stop and think for a few seconds: should you bare with me or bear with me?
That’s the trouble with software. It can pluck a word or phrase that it’s been told to pluck out of a novel, but it can’t know with any degree of certainty whether there’s an actual problem. That’s for the writer to decide, and if the writer has been neglecting his or her reading over the past few years, that decision can sometimes be difficult to make.
But not for you, of course. I’m sure your knowledge of English is sufficient that 99.9% of your word usage is spot on. But do you really want to run the risk of letting that fraction of one percent loose on an unsuspecting readership? Is your vanity today worth risking your reputation tomorrow?
Because make no mistake, if you write Literature with a capital L, and are publicly proud of doing so, a sew/sow kind of slip up will be even harder to live down.
Below, you’ll find the Misused Words results list for this blog post.