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[personal profile] megpie71 posting in [community profile] fanficrants
As I'm no doubt certain long-term readers of my various journals are well aware, I tend to be a bit fussy about word usage. I'm a big fan of the correct word in the correct place, as well as being somewhat intolerant (pronounced "shriekingly furious") about the wrong word being used in the wrong place. Mucking up "definite" and "defiant" because you pronounce "definite" with an "a" and therefore spell it the same way will certainly raise my blood pressure. Ditto using the words "taunt", "taut" and "taught" interchangeably (they aren't interchangeable - they're different words with different meanings). Don't get me started about "lose" and "loose".

This is part of why I feel that a good sized dictionary (and by "good sized", I mean "hardcover, and heavy enough to kill small crawling things") is an essential part of any writer's toolkit.

No, MS Word Spell-check and Grammar check is not a good substitute. Here's why:

1) MS Word Spell-check (or in fact just about any spell-check program for any word processing package anywhere) is designed primarily for a business environment. The primary word list is geared toward people who write business letters, job descriptions, submissions to management, presentations for their peers and managers, and similar such business focused usages. It isn't designed to deal with metaphorical, descriptive, or figurative language on a regular basis.

2) MS Word Grammar Check, likewise, is geared more toward business writing than toward fiction writing. This means it's geared more toward the passive voice rather than the active voice; geared toward a more formal style of writing and a more formal tone than most fiction writers actually wind up using these days.

3) There are, to the best of my knowledge, absolutely no spell-check programs which allow you to check the meaning of the words it's suggesting as options. This means when you spell "definitely" with an "a", because that's the way you pronounce it in your native dialect or accent, the spell-check program immediately pulls out the nearest matching string of letters to the way you've misspelled the word - which just happens to be "defiantly" - and puts that at the top of the list of options.

4) Even a moderately sized dictionary tends to have more of a vocabulary range than the default dictionary for the average word processing program. Which means you can pull out examples from some of the more obscure corners of your vocabulary and be confident you're: firstly, spelling them correctly; and secondly, using them correctly.

5) A good dictionary will also give you a bit of information about the history of the words you're using. So, for example, you can choose not to have a mediaeval English serf talking about someone's "physique" (because the word "physique" only entered the English language in the 19th century). It will also give examples of prefix and suffix combinations which will and won't work together (for example, any Germanic-origin Old English terms will not play nicely with the French-origin suffix "ette" [1]).

6) Particularly for those of us who speak and write Commonwealth English, a good dictionary doesn't have to be told every single damn time we used the flippin' thing that we're looking for UK English spellings and usage. Generally if there's a difference between the US and UK versions, a good dictionary will point this out.

A good dictionary will give you all the information you need about the words you're using in your fiction writing. It's worth investing in one, and using it as a backup to the spell-check program in your word processor of choice. Because here's another thing about dictionaries: they're generally created by a committee of people who are interested in words and who have spent their lives being fascinated by words and the way words are used. Dictionaries are created by professional linguists, as opposed to the professional computer programmers and professional managers who create spell-check functions for word processors. I'm more inclined to trust a dictionary to be correct on matters of word choice and usage than a spell-check program - because a dictionary is more likely to have been edited by people who are interested in more than just the business end of town.

My personal preference is for the Concise Oxford Dictionary, because the bound copy I bought about five or so years back came with a version of the whole thing on disc, designed to be installed onto a computer. I use the PC version as a backup for the spell-check programs of whichever word processing package I'm using at the time - if the spell-checker picks something out as a possible misspelling, I'll check it against the dictionary. Most of the time, the difference is between UK and US English - I'll be spelling things with the extra "u" or similar, while the word processor tends to have problems with anyone not using US English like they say they're using in their computer settings (I use Commonwealth spellings and US keyboard settings because I'm from Australia - we use dollars and cents here as our default currency, and MS Windows doesn't come with a language setting for "English: Australian"). Rather than getting into a lengthy argument with my word processor, I just double-check things against the dictionary, and spend a certain amount of time telling spell-check that it's wrong.


[1] Oddly enough, there is an adjective meaning "made of or coloured silver" - it's "silvern". One for the poetically inclined in the FFVII fandom, and hopefully this will prevent me ever having to see "silveret(te)" again.

ETA: edited to add cut 0730h GMT+8 26 JUN 2012
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