The Demise of Spellchecking Documents

I’m not sure when this happened, but at some point my Apple computer started spell-checking on the fly in nearly every application. A little red underline appears under any word I misspell. You just right-click on that word, and choose the correct spelling (or teach the dictionary your word) from the pop-up menu.

It recently occurred to me that, as a result of this functionality, I rarely spell check documents the old fashioned way (by clicking Tools and then Spell Check, or whatever). It’s easy to visually scan a document for the little red lines.

These are, I think, some of the most valuable technology innovations. They subtly, slowly change your behaviour without you noticing. It’s like Slow Food for your operating system.


  1. I agree, this is a very useful improvement.

    How do you feel about the grammar checks and how they often apply ‘un-intelligent’ rules to your writing?

    Better grammar check should also better pull up the use of improper words, ones that are in the dictionary but used in the wrong context.

  2. Jack: I never use grammar checkers, so I don’t really have a current opinion about them. I just never felt they helped my writing much, and I always found the little green lines that never went away irksome.

  3. It does get annoying when you consistently write in two languages (French and English). Unless there is a way to tell the computer to look through two dictionaries.

  4. And the spellchecker will be reliably wrong in one of two ways for many words spelled uniquely in Canadian English (e.g., neighbour/organize/marvellous/tire). Spellcheckers provide suggestions, not orders.

  5. As far as I know we have to give Microsoft credit here. I believe Word 97 was the first to offer the squiggly underlines. I think the same version killed innovation in grammar checking too, which is why that field has hardly improved in a decade, and why everyone I know turns the green squiggles off.

  6. I don’t particularly believe in spellchecking, I know how to spell, in Word I just find it annoying. But I do like that it’s now built-in in Firefox, because I do tend to make typos when quickly dashing off some web comment. It is annoying that Firefox keeps flagging my colourful Canadian spellings though.

    And I do notice that I now have an expectation of spellcheck everywhere, whereas Firefox doesn’t actually check all types of text entry boxes. It is very quick that we get used to these sorts of things.

  7. I’m not a big fan of the grammar checks (they’re just really more irritating than anything), but spelling is crucial, imo. In fact, I’m anal about it.

  8. I think the spellchecker appeared in the latest OS and Safari upgrade. Have you also notices the way you can now expand text input boxes, like this one I’m typing in right now, to larger sizes?

  9. I particularly enjoy spell-checking in Firefox and in Word, as English is not my native language. But I find it annoying when I switch languages. So that’s why I try not to use it.

  10. When I saw the title of your post in my RSS reader, I was going to immediately chime in and comment on the apple spell checking. It’s amazing, and it’s really improved my ability to write quickly I think.

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