A clever little computer program called a spell-checker has become a crutch for poor spellers around the world.
Can't spell? No problem. As you type away on your keyboard, the spell-checker miraculously sniffs out words that you've apparently spelled incorrectly. It does this in nanoseconds by comparing each word against its storehouse of correctly spelled words that seem to fit what you're writing about.
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.
As we were typing the previous sentence, for instance, we deliberately misspelled the word assertive with only one s, and our spell-checker fixed it before our eyes. So you're seeing assertive spelled correctly, with two s's.
Critics complain that spell-check programs have turned us all into lazy spellers. But that's not their greatest flaw. 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 decided that Max Zupanovic, for instance, should be Max Supernova. Similarly, it turned Cameron Bendgen into Cameron Bandage. Kathy Carbaugh was identified as Kathy Airbag, and there were many more. Spell-checkers, you see, don't always know what to do with unusual proper names.
The yearbook publisher didn't offer much of an apology. Spell-checkers make these mistakes all the time, he said. He offered stickers with the correct spellings to paste over the mistaken names in the yearbook.
So the people in Middletown, Pennsylvania, at least, don't think spell-checkers are all that helpful. Just ask Kathy Airbag.