Slathering On The Errors!

29 Aug

If there is one plea I make to contributors more than any other (except “please include your contact details!”) it is to try and minimise the errors in your work because I am more than capable of adding some of my own. Being mildly dyslexic I frequently find myself correcting as I go as I realise that I am typing gibberish and there are always the typos, accidental omissions or repetitions and silly mistakes that are easily made by anyone. Thankfully, I manage to catch most of the really obvious offenders whilst typing and the majority of the others will be caught during proofreading. But, some will always get through, although I think that on average Atlantean Publishing manages to produce fewer real howlers than some supposedly professional, long-established publishers with big budgets for proofreading (which, if my experience is anything to go by, means the unproofed manuscripts must have been absolutely riddled with errors).

There is, however, an insidious threat to the editor and proofreader – the fallibility of spellcheckers and dictionaries. The unreliability of the former is, of course, well known and widely parodied; I’ve mocked it myself many years since in my poem Lament for the Spellchecker. Thus, it will probably come as no surprise that it plays little role in ensuring the accuracy of spellings and grammar in Atlantean publications – too many correct usages are flagged as incorrect and it is far too common for similar sounding or spelt words to be used that will not be registered as wrong as they are not incorrectly spelt, merely the wrong word. So, I pay vague attention to the red lines that crop up, but don’t actually use the spellchecker. Unfortunately, even with such inattentive semi-use, I was recently caught out by the spellchecker’s dislike of correctly-spelt but uncommon words.

The manuscript was that for my recent booklet, The Skank, and the word in question was ‘slavering’ (as in slobbering or salivating). Now, slavering is one of that words that I’ve used plenty of times in conversation but haven’t really had much cause to write down or, indeed, see written down (especially as I think many have, as I eventually did, confused it with slather). Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, except that it meant I was a just a little uncertain about the spelling, so actually paid heed when the spellchecker proclaimed that ‘slavering’ was not a word. I immediately reached for the dictionary, but, for some reason, the condensers had seen fit not to include ‘slaver’ as an entry and, after much pondering, I was reluctantly forced to concede that the word must be ‘slathering’ (meaning to smear on thickly).

Fast-forward a week or two and I’m typing a story up for the new issue of Monomyth and find that someone else has used ‘slavering’. Once again the spellchecker tells me that it isn’t a word, but my suspicions reignited by this appearance I go to another, less-condensed dictionary and, lo and behold!, there it is – slavering is a word! So, that’s one misused word avoided, evening if it was a little too late for The Skank.

All of which just goes to prove that not only can you not rely upon the spellchecker, but even dictionaries might let you down, even for words that are not contentiously-spelt or extremely uncommon. On the plus side, such moments of confusion do help the correct spelling to lodge in my mind, making the errors less likely to be repeated in the future. But, it’s still annoying to know that I was right and was misled by the tools that, supposedly, were there to guide me!

The moral of the story is twofold. Firstly, as I’ve already mentioned, it is extremely helpful if writers can do their best to ensure their work is error free because there is a good chance that new errors will be added during the publication process (and, if an editor is busy making sense of your work, he’s far less attentive to his own mistakes). The other, of course, is never, ever slavishly believe what any guide to spelling or grammar tells you if you have doubts. If you’re uncertain, do some more research to make certain!

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