When I made my last laptop upgrade (about a year ago), I switched to a different chat program. I’d been using one that functioned very well for my little netbook, but with more screen real estate, I decided to return to a program I had abandoned years ago, right around the time that my friends started using Facebook chat. It took me a day or two to notice, but something seemed wrong with the new program. And then it hit me.

There was no spell-check.

I never realized just how dependent I was on the feature that I probably barely recognized as something worth thinking about in my childhood. Learning how to spell was incredibly important in elementary school, because carrying a dictionary to check spelling was not only cumbersome, but dependent upon how close you were to spelling a word correctly. Once people started writing all of their papers on computers, I can remember teachers telling us to use spell-check; back then, it was an option. Today, spell-check is automatically enabled on just about anything you can type into: web browsers, office suites, and even search engines will offer spelling suggestions. It was such a shock to use a program that simply did not bother to underline my poorly spelled words with a squiggly red line that I wasn’t even sure that it was missing spell-check until I tested it by writing “;lkjasdflkl.” When a program does not recognize “;lkjasdflkl.” as a misspelled word, it is relatively clear it is not using spell-check.

My reliance on this simple technology may or may not even be a bad thing. Word spelling is of course a bit variable, and in specialized fields programs may not recognize certain words (my degree in Biblical Studies proved this rather fast, as have my current studies in Philosophy). What I found interesting, however, was my sudden concern with how well I can spell without the aid. Facing that dilemma for the first time in years left me wondering just how well my childhood training had held up. I’m not entirely sure what the answer is, since I have no guiding red squiggly line and none of my sparring chat partners have corrected me. After all, spelling in an online chat is not the most important aspect of that particular interaction.

In a world of auto-correct and constant access to online dictionaries and thesauruses (thesauri? My spell-check affirms both), it was jarring to have to consistently consider not only my word choice, but my ability to communicate effectively, even if my spelling was not quite right. There were a few words that I simply stopped using in chat, because I knew I could not spell them without the aid of that red squiggly line. Some words I learned to spell correctly, and it took months of typing them to change my muscle memory. “Apparently” is one such word, which I spent most of my life spelling “apparentely,” only to befriend the red squiggly line, once it had reached its technological adolescence.

I’m not sure spelling bees will ever be as popular as they once were; many will argue that teaching spelling isn’t nearly as important as it once was, since we can easily check the letters in our words against a multitude of sources instantaneously, even if we aren’t connected to the internet. I still believe that our words matter, and learning to spell them properly may make a difference, even if, at the end of the day, I won’t mind if you spell a few words wrong.

Really, what I want to say is this: I kind of miss the little red squiggly line.

Image via Flickr.

Published by

J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).