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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Every error is an error of substance

I've unlearned all of the accuracy-boosting skills I once learned in sixth grade about typing. I've turned into a truly terrible typist, in large part because I've picked up the nasty habit of trying to correct my errors as I'm typing. If, say, I'm typing a passage from a book, I can read faster than I can type and I get ahead of myself. I hit the delete key in the middle of words but miscalculate the number of letters to go back, leaving half-formed words. A refresher typing course would not be a bad idea. It seems especially painful to be writing a dissertation about error correction and then to start erring left and right, enacting the very thing I'm writing about.

Except that I
Slate article on spell-checkers

Incorporating user data is a huge step in the right direction for Word, but the process is still sluggish compared with search engines. Google and Live Search generate dictionaries that approach real-time models of language. In a fascinating paper (PDF), two Microsoft researchers explain that a stream of previous search queries can be used to maintain an up-to-date lexicon capable of correcting a high percentage of mistakes, even when 10 or 15 percent of your searches have errors. This purely statistical approach is much timelier than any involving human editors and has far fewer biases. When it comes to fixing errors, the researchers write, "the actual language in which the web queries are expressed becomes less important than the query-log data."


cites Louis Menand's 2003 article about Microsoft Word
Try to prevent Word from doing that blue thing to whatever it recognizes as a hyperlink. There is undoubtedly a way to reset this, but it is deep within the bowels of the machine, guarded by dozens of angry pop-ups. Microsoft wants you to go on the Internet.

but what if this feature had a useful function, as the hyperlinks in Chris Wilson's article (including the one to Menand, in a nice outside-the-Washington-Post-company-hyperlink that we should see more of). There's something vaguely Andy Rooney-ish about this list:
Attention to the new demands of electronic media informs almost every chapter of the new “Manual.” There are discussions about (besides citation) preparing electronic publications, editing and proofreading onscreen, and electronic-publishing rights and permissions. The authors are sensible about these matters; they’re aware that this is an area very much “under construction.” In all departments, in fact, the authors allow themselves plenty of wiggle room, quoting a passage from the 1906 edition: “Rules and regulations such as these, in the nature of the case, cannot be endowed with the fixity of rock-ribbed law. They are meant for the average case, and must be applied with a certain degree of elasticity.” This is modest and becoming, but it is beside the point. The problem isn’t that there are cases that fall outside the rules. The problem is that there is a rule for every case, and no style manual can hope to list them all. But we want the rules anyway. What we don’t want to be told is “Be flexible,” or “You have choices.” “Choice” is another of modern life’s false friends. Too many choices is precisely what makes Word such a nightmare to use, and what makes a hell of, for example, shopping for orange juice: Original, Grovestand, Home Style, Low Acid, Orange Banana, Extra Calcium, PulpFree, Lotsa Pulp, and so on.

That is, why make the list if you're not going to comment on the nature of lists and corrections: they're both methods of containing options that end up proliferating them. It's the entire modus operandi of Entertainment Weekly.

Why is error correction linked to nostalgia?

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