The English As She Is Wheel Spoke.

If like me, you are a writer, then whatever you do, have nothing to do with any online program that offers to analyse your writing style.

I must have tried them all by now. The most simplistic and mostly harmless are the ones that offer to check your spelling. The next most harmless offers to check your punctuation. By the time we get to one that promises to check your grammar, we are entering the Twilight Zone and credibility is squaring up for self defenestration. Suffice it to say, that even the humble spell checker can get it very wrong on occasion. If you’ve not noticed that by now, you’re living in the region of the nebulae cuculidae. We’ve all heard of the spell checker that rendered ‘psychotherapist’ as ‘psycho the rapist’. And we’ve seen plenty of examples where it just refused to believe that such a word as ‘cuculidae’ exists. If you are a biologist like me, (though only amateur these days) you will have a hard time typing up your latest paper or thesis. But when it censors quite common contractions, like ‘I’m’ or ‘you’re’ it can become infuriating. It treats people like me like teenagers and assumes that when we type, ‘You’re’ we have misspelled ‘your’, and vice versa. You would think it would take a hint from the context, wouldn’t you? Not a bit of it. ‘If you’re coming along, please let me know,’ gets changed to, ‘If your coming along, please let me know.’ And the thing is, it’s bad enough when one tries using an online spell check. But some of these spell checkers are there by default and with some apps there is no way of turning them off, (I’ve just turned off autocorrect with Skype, so I think I’m safe for now).

It is when we get to the grammar checkers that it gets really annoying. I’m not just talking about MS Word, which thinks the eleventh commandment is: ‘Thou shalt not use run on sentences’. There are online grammar checkers that cannot distinguish between ‘too’ and ‘to’ and assume that I can’t either. The trouble is, that these will mark your text, and penalise you for non existent mistakes. One even announced: ‘Plagiarism detected’. It took me half an hour to work out that it thought I was plagiarising my own work that I’d published online. Presumably, it does a web search and finds matches. In which case, quite legitimate quotations will also be marked with a red flag.

Now there is a nice little app called, ‘Hemingway’, which offers to analyse text and measure it against a kind of ‘Hemingwayesque’ ideal. It looks for over long sentences, excessive use of adverbs, use of passive voice, and measures how hard a sentence is to read. It’s OK, I like it — up to a point. But we always have to remember that, as my university tutor said: ‘We’ve moved on since then’. The app has its uses, but it always unwise to blindly conform to any kind of rule. And here’s the thing. Hemingway didn’t. I’ve tested random samples from his output on the Hemingway app, and he used far more adverbs than I do. So cum grano salis, every time.

But now we are really going to cross the line.

There is one app called: ‘I Write Like’. This one professes to be able to tell you whose writing style you are closest to. I can’t complain. At different times my writing has been matched to James Joyce, Margaret Atwood, David Foster Wallace, Vladimir Nabokov, and various others. Including, I might add, people that I’ve never even read! Indeed, my only worry was that maybe my style was so loose and nondescript that it couldn’t settle for any one particular author. But then I tried testing samples from the above listed writers and got a similar result for them as well. So, that’s another one bites the dust.

But the final one under review really takes the prize! This one, called:’Gender Genie’ professed to be able to identify the gender of the writer with an accuracy of eighty percent. It didn’t. In fact, so many people complained online that it never got it right, that, in the end, the owners of the site took it down. So there you have it. You can tell writers that they can’t spell, that they use bad grammar, or are too wordy, or even that they write like someone they’ve never read, but tell them that they write like a woman when they are a man, or vice versa, and they’ll take you down! Down down down to funky town. 😉


About Zoe Nightingale

I am a writer of short stories, novels, poetry and non fiction.
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