Spellchecker Poem: “Candidate for a Pullet Surprise”
Spellcheckers can’t be trusted.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that the computer coders who created spellcheckers had malevolent intentions. They are not rubbing their hands and cackling deviously about the thousands of naively trusting students who are annually penalized for misspellings in their papers. I’m sure they intended to create a helpful tool.
And it is helpful. Really. I am thankful for spellcheckers and use them often to catch typos and plain old sloppiness. In fact, I just ran it on this article (wasn’t so sure about malevolent, naively, or misspellings). It’s just that there’s no way for a computer program to account for homophones — words with different definitions and different spellings that sound the same. There are other problems too. Sometimes the word you misspell is still a correctly spelled word — just not the one you meant. A spellchecker doesn’t understand context, so if you mean to say I hate your shoes, but accidentally type I hat you’re shows, it will just nod and smile instead of inserting some helpful red squigglies.
I found the poem below while researching a series of posts on homophones. It was written by a college science professor at Northern Illinois University who apparently got sick of penalizing students for mispellings that spellcheckers overlooked. It’s available on various sites, but as far as I can tell it was originally published here.
Candidate for a Pullet Surprise
Or, “An Owed to the Spelling Checker”
by Jerrold H. Zar
I have a spelling checker.
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.
Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it’s weigh,
My checker tolled me sew.
A checker is a bless sing,
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when aye rime.
Each frays come posed up on my screen
Eye trussed to bee a joule
The checker poured o’er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.
Be fore a veiling checkers
Hour spelling mite decline,
And if were lacks or have a laps,
We wood be maid to wine.
Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
Their are know faults with in my cite,
Of none eye am a wear.
Now spelling does knot phase me,
It does knot bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped words fare as hear.
To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should be proud.
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaws are knot aloud.
Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays
Such soft ware for pea seas,
And why I brake in two averse
By righting wants too pleas.
Title suggested by Pamela Brown.
Based on opening lines suggested by Mark Eckman.
By the author’s count, 127 of the 225 words of the poem are incorrect (although all words are correctly spelt).
Published in the Journal of Irreproducible Results, Jan/Feb1994, page 13. Reprinted Vol. 45, No. 5/6, 2000,.
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Label Printing http://printing-in-china.net/label-printing.html
Hi Brian..The UK webzine Open Writing has published a story I wrote about the Pullet Surprise:
Best wishes, Eric, retired journalist in Sydney, Australia.
Thanks for linking to your article. It’s a good one that raises important questions. I’m glad I got the poem and attribution right. I do my best to attribute and provide links to original sources when I post other peoples’ work. Do you think I should have sought Dr. Zar’s permission before posting? I guess I operate under some assumptions in the blog world (as long as they link back to my blog, I don’t care who publishes my stuff), but I don’t want to contribute to the intellectual property anarchy you describe.
I subscribed to your blog too!
Spellcheckers are a double-edged sword. The trick is knowing when to use them.