Chip's Technical Blog

Tech commentary of thoughts, challenges, how-to's, and the mundane.

Time for new grammar checking

Subtitle: protecting the language

So I am often bad with sayings and grammar; as a result, I am fascinated by the subject. There are a number of these which I have often misused, some of which include:

  • I’ve used “here here” when I should have used “hear hear”. See this post for details.
  • I’ve said “intensive purposes” when I should have said “intents and purposes”. I had even worked out a definition, including how they differed from “extensive purposes”.
  • I’ve said “mute point” when it should be “moot point”. See here for details.
  • I also mix up a variety of sayings, such as the nonsensical “double-bladed edge”.
  • And the list goes on…

In addition to the language rules blog linked above, another great place to learn about such things is A Way With Words, broadcast on many local NPR stations.

Unfortunately, I see these mistakes as muddying up our language, so I would like to get better about it. But rather than going out and searching down each of these cases to learn independently, I feel like there is a better solution. As a computer scientist, I recognize that we already have the perfect mechanism for this — the grammar checkers. Our word processing software already has a grammar checkers, and our web browsers have spell checking, so it may just be a matter of time. I think the grammar checker should be adapted to look for misuses of the language, and to suggest alternatives to writers. This suggestion should come complete with internet links to learn more about the cases found. So in the future, when I “tow the line”, it can let me know that I should instead “toe the line”. So short of listing all commonly mistaken sayings, how can we build software to do this? That is my question. But in the meanwhile, I would just settle for a [possibly community maintained] database of common mistakes it can check for.

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