When I say Spellcheck, of course, I mean Autocorrect … but you never see them together, do you? I suspect they’re different sides to the same personality. Spellcheck is Dr Jekyll to Autocorrect’s Mr Hyde.
One swig of the stuff in the test-tube with the green smoke coming off it, and Spellcheck throws aside the red and blue wiggly lines, to start summarily correcting my English.
Somewhere in my smartphone is a tiny script going “Hargh! Hargh! Hargh!” in an I’ve-just-drunk-the-potion villain-style laugh. Never did work out why they always found their work so funny, but that’s another bolt-hole.
Today’s subject is warthogs. Aspiring warthogs. And of course warthogging. As a warthog myself, I think of what I do as a form of composition. It’s not exactly music-making, but there’s a rhythm to be achieved within a structure of – okay, rules – that itself transcends the rules. The rhythm transcends the rules, I mean. I said this last week: if you know the rules, you can break them. What matters is clarity.
Sometimes, a walrus like warthog is so obviously not what was intended, that there’s no need for the follow-up.
No, Spellcheck, not “walrus-like”.
Today, I also want to write about Autocorrect in history. And, because I’ve used the analogy, in music. Autocorrect would have added notes to John Cage’s 4’33”, which in its true form – see here for a live performance; it opens in another window – presages mindfulness, today’s fashion for meditation, and much of the modern self-help industry.
If Autocorrect had had her way, we’d all be humming a tuneful – note-packed – little ditty and completely missing the shark attack that marks the start and finish of each movement.
Yes, and most prayers would have been reduced to “Sorry about that; please may I have a pony?” But in the absence of an effective messaging format, the corrective follow-up – *penance* – would never have been sent. So many young horses miraculously delivered. We’d be knee-deep in house ducks.
And the Gettysburg Address. Here's Autocorrect’s cut-down-to-the-essentials version. “Eighty-seven years ago, our grandparents founded a nation in the belief that we’re all free and equal. Now we’re fighting among ourselves about that. We owe it to our dead to achieve freedom.”
Sorry. To commit a similar sacrilege on a historic British address, how about this? “We shall fight on the beaches and inland. We shall never surrender, and even if we are invaded, we’ll win in the end.”
Kind of … almost. But no cigar, Boris – er, Winston.
Not now, Spellcheck!
I know smoking can be harmful to your – where did that come from?
No, I know I don’t smoke. It’s just a – oh, go away!
Where was I?
Yes - my problem with Autocorrect/Spellcheck isn’t just that she introduces Abyssinians into straightforward sentences; it’s that she tries to reduce everything to a bland, programmed English. And often succeeds. We value originality, but all our tools iron it out.
You never hear an artistic success story that starts with “I followed the rules scrupulously, and…” You don’t start an entire new literary movement by producing something that does what it’s told. Rules are descriptive, anyway. They’re really saying “This is what worked in the past.” This is what worked to achieve clarity, I mean.
Clarity, or something else. Somewhere in the deep history of – insert religion here – there’s a bloke (usually a bloke) who did that, dressed like that, at that time on a Sunday (?) morning, and achieved transcendence. So now we have to turn up at that time, to do that, and – no we don’t!
We have to do what works for us.
Like he did.
So keep going, would you mind? You’re not wrong; you’re just doing it your own way. If your own way doesn’t work, well, yes, maybe you should get to know the rules better, but once you’ve made their acquaintance, don’t follow them. Go back to your own way.
Uh oh. I set out to write a post about Spellcheck and Autocorrect – you’ll notice that I’ve split them up and given them capitals – and now here I am telling you how to live – which is exactly what I’m against.
But I get into conversation with people younger than I am – everybody’s younger than I am; I’m talking about “young people” in the conventional sense – and I get the impression that they think the future’s something given to us. Or lately, taken away from us via the cancellation of a certain trade deal that I can’t quite bring myself to mention.
Gimme a break. Your future’s your own. So’s your ambition. If you’re looking for an answer, or an original idea, or an opening sentence, or a story to tell, or perhaps another warthog to share your life with, you won’t find it in the software.
So trust yourself! Get out there and wiggle!
In the UK, 7% of people do this, and a woman was speaking very fast about banning it. Was it eating meat? Drinking out of plastic bottles? Something worse? Keeping pets? Murdering people? No fewer than twenty prime ministers... Oh, politics.
They were talking about private education. People pay money to have their children educated at Public Schools, which are of course private schools. Baby prime ministers get sent off to Eton. State-funded education is provided for free, but people pay to go private. Shouldn't be allowed, said the woman.
Seems to me that simple ideals like "freedom of choice" are quite complicated in practice. There are arguments both ways on this one, but "We don't like people doing this, so we're going to legislate to ban it" is problematic, surely? Doubly so in this case, where the private-school teachers (and the children) might go overseas rather than bring their magic to the state system.
Yeah, and then my radio started talking about - you know, the other thing. Somebody who wasn't prime minister (yet) hadn't said that he wouldn't do something, so a group of MPs had tabled an amendment to stop him doing it. Uh huh.
My radio eavesdrops on a world where the first instinct is to stop things happening. Not sure what kind of an -ist this makes me, but I'm really not sure that I live there any more.
In other news, we went to a party the other night. It was so-so, fun in some ways, not in others, and we voted by a narrow margin to leave. We went out to the entrance lobby, and then one of us said "We can't just walk out the door!" Somebody else suggested the back door, and then the idea came up that we could climb out of an upstairs window. "I'm not going to let us jump off the roof!" said somebody.
Our hosts were standing right there, watching us. By this time, they'd stopped urging us back into the party, and were clearly just waiting for us to leave.
There had been talk of us taking food and drink with us, and continuing the party outside. But that obviously wasn't going to happen.
"We could stay!" one of us said. "Let's vote on it again!" she added.
And we're still there, talking about staying or leaving, doing neither, stuck.