Silly Grammar Check! Rules are for Biological Lifeforms!

If you let the machine tell you how to write, you are going to write like a machine.

Let me begin this by saying that I don’t use the automated grammar check in my writing software. As a matter of fact, I don’t think it has one, but I had occasion to open a file from someone else, in a different format, and the program that opened was not the one I use. You would recognize it, though, if I named it (which I shall not).

All those little green squiggles amused me so much that I decided to run some of my own writing through it, to see what it thought of me. I fed it a thousand words or so of my current project and came up with some oddball results:

She just nods, her gaze a million miles away across the street.

I’m pretty sure any human reader is going to get that, but the machine said to take out the comma. It said it’s incorrect to use a comma between a verb and its object. I’m not sure how she could “nod her gaze,” but that seems to be what it thought I meant. My dictionary says “nods” is an intransitive verb. Although one can, of course, nod one’s head, or even nod permission, it is certainly correct to say “She just nods.”

She gets stuck in the middle, but it’s been amusing enough to be worth the trouble. (In reference to the girl-chasing antics of her teenage male friend.)

It said to use “She is stuck in the middle,” which is an entirely different thing. “Gets stuck” implies a continuing pattern of action, while “is stuck” only refers to a single time – she is stuck right now.

Ok, I don’t even begin to get this one:

“I should go,” she says, “before the rain starts,” but she doesn’t unwind her legs from beneath her.

The machine said, with no suggested alternative and no explanation, that “doesn’t unwind” is wordiness. I have no idea what it thinks I meant, or how it thinks I should have said it, but, again, I’m pretty sure no normal reader is going to have a problem with it.

“I saw this two years ago,” he didn’t say.

It said to use “I saw these two years ago,” which, again, is an entirely different thing. And yes, I tried it with a comma after “this.” No effect.

[When he complains because he calls her Zachary, as in “Zachary, Zachary, Zachary!”] “Yeah, but Zacharius loses some of its, uh, majesty, when you say it three times.”

Ok, maybe the interjection threw it. This still makes no sense. It told me to use “it’s”! Which would be “Zacharius loses some of it is, uh, majesty . . .” I don’t care if the interjection gets in the way, I don’t even care if you tell me it’s a cliché for her to sigh “Zachary, Zachary, Zachary” at him. Of course it is, and she knew it, but people do it all the time. It’s still a possessive, not a contraction, and there’s really no reason for it to have missed that.

So the point is, as I said: If you let the machine tell you how to write, you will write like a machine. If you let the machine do the thinking, you will think like a machine. We’ve all seen things like “Eye never ewes spell cheque. I dew fine without it.” Well, don’t trust the machine on grammar, either.

By the way:

It has long been rumored that if you listen to the correct frequency in the South Pacific Ocean, you will hear a female voice reading two-digit numbers in a toneless voice, with no apparent purpose and no apparent pattern. I have been unable to verify or refute this, and I can’t find much reference to it, but it’s a fun thought, anyway.

By the other way:

(and two other ways is entirely appropriate, given the true translation of “trivia” as “three roads”)

My new novel, Cursing the Cougar, can be ordered now at my website or at Amazon.


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