Never send a grammar-check program to do a human’s job.

Not long ago on a forum for writers, I saw a discussion about whether writers need to use special computer programs to help them with their grammar and vocabulary and such.  Of course, I didn’t want to express my opinion (always a bad idea on that forum anyway, since for some reason the moderators believe that disagreement = argument = fighting) without first testing the program in question with a sample of my own writing.

So… Parts of my experience with one of those stupid fix-your-writing computer programs (Grammarly):

“Sticky sentences slow your reader down, try and avoid them.” I’m supposed to let someone who writes this sentence tell me how to correct my own?  That needs to be a semicolon instead of a comma, or even a period to separate it into two sentences.  Also, try and is wrong.

Instead, it should be this:  “Sticky sentences slow your reader down. Try to avoid them.”

(I am amused that even the little grammar checker for this blog caught the error in “try and.”  Not really that hard, kids.)

A couple of sentences from my own writing:  “A few days passed, I think. Whenever there was only moderate rain and no wind, I went outside, no longer looking for an end to sea and sky but only… wondering, maybe, how long it would be until I forgot that I had ever lived anywhere else, and knowing that isolation would accelerate the fading of memory.”

The part in bold type is supposedly cliché… Really.  Insert eye-rolling emoticon here.  Exactly how is it cliché?  The computer program, in its infinite stupidity, didn’t explain that part.

The following words are “too big,” according to Grammarly:

surrendering
particular
imprisonment
temporary
ordinary
habitation
vegetables
captivity
original
revealed
alternative
isolation
accelerate
considerably
experience
familiar
appropriate
deteriorating
immediate
hallucination

Is there any word on this list that isn’t part of normal speaking vocabulary for grown-ups?  They’re definitely all part of mine.  Syllable count alone is not sufficient to determine if a word is “too big” for readers… And, um, disestablishmentarianism — so there!  😛

Under any circumstances, the fact that the protagonist of the quoted story has an IQ around 140 (which is still somewhat lower than his author’s) ought to count as some justification for his speech patterns.  Besides, readers who have trouble with the words on that list aren’t going to understand the story anyway, so why should I nerf my word choices for their benefit?

Advertisements

About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
This entry was posted in writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Never send a grammar-check program to do a human’s job.

  1. Pingback: “readability” — my totally offensive and not-PC view | North of Andover

Don't hold back -- tell me what you really think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s