Monday, March 05, 2012

987 Your Virtual Miss Grundy

987  Your Virtual Miss Grundy

Miss Grundy was the featured teacher in the Archie comic strip.  She was a summary of the strict classroom martinet (or martinette) who made you toe the line.  Word is the Miss Grundys of the world have devolved a more touchy-feely-cutsie-fuzzy kind of teacher who reminds you kindly to toe the line in a way that will not stunt the growth of your self esteem.

But for those who revere the Good Old Days, there are internet programs that’ll do just fine, thank you.

Let’s start with that new web browser, Maxthon.  It’s fast, its slick.  It’s not ready for prime time.  But it IS ready to beat your knuckles with a ruler when you commit some typographical felony, like putting two spaces between sentences.

Originally, the two spaces served a purpose, but now they don’t.  In the days of manual typewriters it made clear that a sentence had ended and a new one started.  With the development of proportional spacing, there no longer was any doubt, so exit the two-space rule.  

Except those of us who have been writing since the advent of papyrus still want to put two spaces between a period and the start of the next sentence.  Maxthon will let you do that,  but not without putting the red-line of death (spelling error!) under the extra space and the first word of the new sentence.

These posts are written first on Google Docs.  Maxthon competes with Google Chrome in browserland.  Therefore the competitor’s product becomes an automatic spelling error.  The red line of death.  Docs also declines to allow contractions.  Hence, “couldn’t,” “wouldn’t” “ain’t,” and the like  are spelling errors unless you manually add them to your personal “dictionary.”

Once posted, the Wessay is copied to MS Word, which forbids punctuation in its file names.  A great many of these posts have -- or should have -- periods, commas, apostrophes, colons, even (shudder!) semi-colons (all used properly, by the way) in their titles.

Word’s grammar check is one of the worst virtual Miss Grundys of them all.  A frequent device used here is the sentence fragment.  The red line of death.  Fragments, real and imagined give Word grammo-plexy.  Oh, Wordgrundy is good for stuff like using a word twice in a row without meaning to, stuff you might miss when proofing.  It’s good for spotting dropped letters in a word.  But it is super persnickety when it comes to a host of other sins, especially the intentional bending of a rule.

Eliminating grammar check would be a hardship for the grammatically challenged.  But here’s a modest proposal:  Levels of strictness.  High for the writers of formal stuff, medium for most of us and low for the highly skilled.  (Yes, you can turn it off.  But that’s impractical.)

For writers of academic claptrap, things get even worse when you put your work through the computerized Miss Grundy of APA or MLA style, used by many colleges as writing standards.  Then, not only do you get notifications of your slovenliness, but detailed explanations of what you should do about it.

Academic writing really isn’t writing at all, it’s mechanics.  So having a mechanical computer program to keep you on the straight and narrow is good for your grade point average.  But sometimes these style machines go extremes.  Like when they completely outlaw the passive voice.  (Or when the passive voice is completely outlawed by them.) (So, there!)

Do you miss the real Miss Grundy?

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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