Let there be gall enough in thy ink, though thou blog with a goose-pen, no matter.

Hello and good morning.

It’s Thursday again, and so it’s time for my usual, normal, typical weekly blog post.  For those of you who dip in only occasionally to read this weekly post, you should know that I’ve been writing “daily”* blog posts for about the last two and a half weeks, since I have no will or desire or urge to write fiction, or to play guitar, or to do anything else more creative than writing whatever comes into my stream of consciousness for these blogs.

This week, my Monday and Tuesday blog posts were probably a bit gloomy.  I’m never sure how they come across to other people, though—I seem unable to express my feelings in ways that other people even notice, let alone understand**, so I can’t make unqualified assessments.  But yesterday’s was, I think, more lighthearted, since it was the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

I like things like that.

Since I write a lot, I’m often slightly irritated by Word’s grammar checker function.  It frequently makes recommendations or highlights things that, apparently, its algorithm considers cases of incorrect grammar or punctuation.  Maybe half the time, maybe slightly more than that, it’s correct, because I’ve made a typo or was writing too fast on my first draft (or I just was incorrect, which does happen), but the rest of the time it’s simply wrong about its detected “error”.

There’s nothing wrong with that (ha ha); I don’t expect such algorithms to be perfect.  The problem is, when I address the suggestions, Word only gives me the options of changing what I wrote, not checking for that issue at all anymore (which I think would be counterproductive) or ignoring it “once”.  If I choose the latter, which I usually do, but then go back and edit that sentence or paragraph in any way—even if I put the cursor there—it highlights that “error” again, and I then have to choose either to re-right-click on it and tell it to ignore it once, yet again, or just to ignore the little blue double-underline that has clearly been designed to be difficult to ignore.  It’s irritating.

If there are people from Microsoft reading this, especially people who work on programming Word, please note:  I love your work, it’s a brilliant word processor; in many ways it’s The word processor, the standard by which all others are judged, and rightly so.  But can you please give us some other options such as, “ignore this from now on in this document”, and possibly even, “this would-be correction is itself erroneous”, the latter choice perhaps triggering a report to be sent back to Microsoft so the algorithm can be updated when it’s discovered that it’s making erroneous suggestions in certain circumstances.  I wouldn’t expect Word just to take my word for it, so to speak, but if many writers send back such reports on a particular issue, the program can be steadily improved, which would be of benefit to many.

I worry about this not merely because of the minor inconvenience to me which repeats itself several times daily, but also because there are many people out there who don’t seem to have studied grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc., since, perhaps, third grade—and I doubt they got a very good grounding in the matters even then—so they learn what they think are rules of spelling and grammar and punctuation and usage from the corrections they are given when they use texting functions and word processors.  Which means they’re learning something incorrect in many cases, assuming they’re trying to learn in the first place, which I’m pretty sure at least some of them are doing.

I know, of course, that language is an evolving structure, and some “rules” are arbitrary and even silly…but not all of them.  Grammar exists because there is a logic to it that allows language consistently and accurately to convey thoughts and ideas in useful ways from one person to another.  Some conventions are no more “natural” than driving on the right side of the road versus the left.  But even in such cases, people need to pick a side of the road for everyone to stick to, even if it’s just arbitrary, or there will be many accidents, and no one will get anywhere.

Some things are real and fundamental—I think Chomsky showed, or at least posited, that there is an inherent grammar or syntax structure built into all human brains—and some things are semi-arbitrary, such as whether “prepositions” come before or after the words they modify, whether it’s even possible to split infinitives***, what symbol one should use to indicate that one is writing what some other person is or was saying, and so on.  These things can be, and are, done differently in different languages, but within a language, communication is better when the conventions are followed, for the most part, by those who actually want to communicate in that language.

When I write fiction, there are times when I will deliberately write ungrammatically, most often when writing dialogue.  But this is not the same as not knowing or caring about grammar and punctuation and related matters.  Language evolves when there are causes for changes, good or bad, but hopefully not just because of laziness and slipshod reliance on automatic spell-checkers and grammar checkers, especially if those are going to give bad recommendations.

Sometimes I despair.  Other times, I’m asleep.

I’m exaggerating a bit how much it bothers me, of course, and I don’t feel any moral outrage toward people who make such mistakes, or toward Word’s programmers for not having produced a program that’s perfect in all its parts.  That would be silly, and not in the way that I’m usually silly.  I just think it would be nice to try to improve the situation a bit to help people who really want to learn the rules of grammar, punctuation, spelling and so on properly****.  And it would be good if Word could be told when its grammatical suggestions are wrong.  Still, when I think about how much I write, even though this happens to me at least once a day, that’s still an awful lot more Word gets correct than it gets wrong, so kudos to those involved!

And to all the rest of you, who’ve now read an unplanned quasi-rant, since I don’t have any fiction writing to discuss, well—please have a good day and a good week and a good month and a good year, l’dor v’dor, ad infinitum.  Try to stay healthy from within and from without, which is a bigger challenge right now in much of the world than it usually seems to be.  Be good to those you love, and be good to those who love you, and if there is significant overlap in those two groups and you get to spend time with the groups’ members—that’s wonderful.  Cherish that fact.  Try to keep things that way if you can.



*In scare quotes because technically I have only been writing on the days that I go to work, so not on Sundays, and not on every Saturday.

**I’ve quoted often the line from Pink Floyd’s song Brain Damage, “And when the cloudbursts thunder in your ear/ you shout, and no one seems to hear” as representing my experience a lot of the time.

***Boldly or otherwise.

****So that, when they do break those rules—as they will, if they write enough—they can do so deliberately, choosing when and where and how they do it, achieving much more reliable results and effects than if they didn’t know what they were doing.  As Picasso is reputed to have said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”  He might not have been the most admirable of people, but he knew his stuff when it came to art.

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