Microsoft Word does not recognize the spelling of transphobic or postfeminism. It does, however, seem to think that Gryffindor is a perfectly cromulent word. I know this because I have just written a book review (forthcoming this month) in which I compare a liberal politician to a Harry Potter character and award points to his house. (This allusion places Jesse Helms and Newt Gingrich in the roles of Slytherin buffoons Crabbe and Goyle. The metaphor starts to fall apart after that because Draco Malfoy is much smarter than George W. Bush.) Anyway, the point is, my software is operating at the young adult level of language rather than the graduate level at which I’m writing. Spell-check is not to be trusted.
Of course, if you’ve ever written extensively in Word and/or taught writing of any kind, you know this all too well. Sadly, that isn’t the case for most people. Will Smith recently tweeted a silly thing and conflated bored with board. He caught himself later and made a joke of it. (Good for him, I’m glad he caught it and confessed humorously. He’s kind of adorable.) The fact that Twitter actually has a spell-check feature would not have helped him since bored and board are both spelled correctly. The issue is in not checking your own work. My favorite (and frequently seen) mistake in student essays is the correction of the misspelled word customer to the incorrect word costumer. Happens every semester. Also, it’s contextually hilarious when business students note that the costumer is always right. Here, put on this banana outfit before the bored meeting. (See what I did there?)
It’s incredibly difficult to get students to do more than a cursory edit of their essays. A quick run-through with spell-check is usually the extent of their revision process, which, I should point out, will not fix incorrect words spelled correctly nor will it know what to do with words spelled so badly that it doesn’t recognize what’s being attempted. Also, it isn’t revision.
The difference between editing and revision is the difference between changing the oil on your car and rebuilding the transmission. On the one hand, you can ignore it and still keep on going down the road with minimal consequences, and on the other hand, your engine may seize up and cause a crash. Now, don’t get me wrong—you should regularly change your oil. That’s just good car maintenance. But a bad transmission is just not a viable component if you want your essay to get you somewhere. Also, my metaphors today are ridiculous. It’s because of my latest fan fiction: Harry Potter and the Dirty Carburetor. Hermione knows her way around a grease gun. Ten points to Gryffindor. I just had to spell-check that.
I’m not actually certain what the average writing skill level is for Microsoft Word users. It’s probably standard these days for both high schoolers writing crappy five paragraph essays (seriously, there is NO RULE that says an essay must be five paragraphs—stop doing that) and famous novelists writing hundreds of pages at a stretch. Pretty much every grad student writes a thesis or dissertation in Word. (Can you imagine the olden days when academics had to toil on typewriters like chumps? Makes my fingers bleed just thinking about it.) What was I saying? Oh right: Why doesn’t Microsoft Word have a more comprehensive dictionary given its broad user base?
In summation, I’m glad Word will autocorrect made-up words from the wizarding world of Harry Potter but I wish it could help my struggle with transgressive sexualities. I'm ignoring a lot of red squiggles today; transgressive is spelled correctly.