Spell-Check: Autocorrecting Diarrhea

Spell-checking has been around since the early days of computing. I can’t say that it has improved much in recent years. Sure, any software can flag misspelled words, but it is the suggested words that are in dire need of help. When I’m typing a word that I don’t exactly know how to spell, I make my best attempt at it and let the computer correct me. The suggested list of possible words often perplexes me. Sometimes I cannot imagine how it arrived at those words.

Before I launch into my rant, I’ll say that Google is the best at figuring out pretty much any word spelling combination. If I can’t find the spelling anywhere else, a simple Google search yields accurate results every time. I’m excluding Google from this rant because that is an Internet search, which I think is a little different than composing text in an application.

I’ll begin with some positive praise. Microsoft Word has the best spell checking and suggestion engine out there. In my experience, no other program comes close. That’s one of the many reasons why I am using Word to write this post, which you are reading now. It doesn’t always give me the precise word I’m looking for, but it still beats the competition.

The Firefox browser added built-in spell checking many versions ago, and it is one of the worst examples of this behavior. Long ago, I gave up composing blog posts in a browser window for this very reason. The Firefox spell checker is just terrible. Sure, it knows when a word isn’t in the dictionary, but determining what that word should be is something it fails at more often than not.

Apple’s iOS operating system is not great at suggesting spellings for misspelled words either. I am often baffled at the words it suggests. Sometimes I think the dictionary engine is powered by nothing more than a random word generator. All too often when I tap a misspelled word, I get two or more completely off the wall suggestions, or even worse, the message that “No replacements found.”

All of this brings me to one tricky word to spell: diarrhea. For some reason I can never spell it right on the first try. I always want to spell it “diaherria” (which is obviously incorrect.) My misspelling is close to the actual word, so it should be a snap for the computer to correct it for me. Not so! Not a single program that I’ve tested this on can get it right.

MS Word thinks it is “diathermia.” Firefox throws up its hands and doesn’t offer any suggestions at all. The Chrome browser thinks it is “diehard.” The Mac OS X dictionary also thinks the word is “diehard.” The suggestion from iOS, however, is by far the worst. That same misspelled word in iOS 6 is autocorrected to “fisheries.” Yes, fisheries! Completely absurd! I could maybe understand that if it had grown accustomed to me typing that word several times in the past, but I’ve never typed that word to my knowledge.

I’m left to think that there must be a deliberate effort to suppress the word diarrhea from being on a suggested words list.

I only used the word diarrhea as a single example. There are many others. I struggle with autocorrect every day, and I’m sure other users do as well. I don’t see why it is so hard to figure out what I am trying to spell.

If anything good has come from writing this post, it’s that I’ve typed the word diarrhea so many times that I’ll probably never forget how to spell it right the first time.

Author: Craig Tisinger


4 thoughts on “Spell-Check: Autocorrecting Diarrhea”

  1. iOS’s spelling suggestions are informed by proximity of letters on the keyboard. This makes it better at correcting words that are typed wrong, rather than dealing with words you don’t know how to spell. For example, you typed a word that began with D, which is right next to F. It makes sense that you could have mistyped an F.

  2. Great to see you posting in 2013. I agree about spell checkers needing better context understanding in their suggestions. And I hope you won’t have to look up diarrhea any time soon!

  3. Diarrhea is a common cause of death in developing countries and the second most common cause of infant deaths worldwide. The loss of fluids through diarrhea can cause dehydration and electrolyte disturbances such as potassium deficiency or other salt imbalances. In 2009 diarrhea was estimated to have caused 1.1 million deaths in people aged 5 and over. ..;:;

    See you in a bit.
    Gregory Lauver

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