A clever little computer program called a spell-checker is often referred to – especially by poor spellers – as the greatest thing since sliced bread. As you type away on your keyboard, the spell-checker miraculously sniffs out words that appear to be improperly spelled. It does this in nanoseconds by comparing each word against its storehouse of correctly spelled words that seem to fit what's being described.
Some spell-checkers just highlight suspicious words and let the writer decide what to do about them. More assertive programs go right ahead and change the spelling. In the previous sentence, for instance, we deliberately mistyped the word assertive as asertive, and our spell-checker fixed it before our eyes.
Critics complain that spell-check programs have made lazy spellers of us all. But that's not their greatest peril. Just ask the folks at Middletown Area High School in Pennsylvania.
Like most U.S. high schools, Middletown High publishes a yearbook full of photographs and stories about its students and their activities. It's a keepsake that can bring back fond memories years later.
Or not-so-fond memories, in the case of dozens of Middletown High students whose names were hideously misspelled by a spell-checker run amok! For some bizarre reason, it turned Max Zupanovic, for instance, into Max Supernova. Similarly, Cameron Bendgen became Cameron Bandage, Kathy Carbaugh was identified as Kathy Airbag, and so forth. You see, spell-checkers don't always know what to do with uncommon proper names.
The yearbook publisher breezily reported that his spell-checkers make these mistakes all the time. He offered stickers with the correct spellings to paste over the mistaken names.
Thus, in Middletown, Pennsylvania, at least, spell-checkers are now held in somewhat lower esteem than sliced bread. Just ask Kathy Airbag.