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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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August 28, 2008 10:04 AM

What words would you add to the Microsoft spell-checker?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano


ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Mike Calcagno, general manager with the Natural Language Group for Office at Microsoft, and members of his team identify and vet new words to add to the spell checkers that ship with Office in many different languages.

After today's story on the team at Microsoft that makes the spell-checker, people wrote in to share the words they wish it would include and their favorite spell-checker corrections.


A friend who works in the sciences said it's difficult to trust the spell-checker in her field. "You think Bromodichloromethane or 4-Methyl-2-Pentanone are in there? Or whenever we use borehole the suggested correction is brothel..."

A man who works in Olympia had this question:

"I've often wondered why a corporation based in Washington has a spell-checker that doesn't include Walla Walla as an acceptable proper noun instead of insisting that it's a repetition... Apparently, Microsoft thinks there's a town called Walla, WA -- where they grow Walla onions." (Only half as delicious, I'm sure.)

For more about what the Microsoft Natural Language Group does, check out their blog.

And for anyone who wants to see the original version of Jerrold Zar's "Candidate for a Pullet Surprise," here's a link (PDF). The poem begins:

I have a spelling checker,

It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

What words wood ewe like to sea added to the spell checker? Or, what are your favorite examples of the Cupertino effect -- odd "corrections" or errors introduced by spell checkers?

Update, 11:54 a.m.: Mike Calcagno just passed on this update about the word "borehole." "I am pleased to report that the word 'borehole' is verified in Office 2007."

Likewise, a commenter noted that "Walla Walla" is recognized in Office 2007.

I first thought to write about this team after reading a question posed to New York Times technology writer David Pogue about the Obama-Osama issue earlier this month. The issue continues to surface even though the team sent out a fix for the issue in spring 2007.

All three of these are examples of what winds up being a tough problem for Calcagno and team: Even as they regularly make progress, adding thousands of words to each new speller, the effort is lost on people who have old versions of Word.

Updated, 12:45 p.m.: Oh, this one is embarrassing. But I'd rather you read it here first than on Regret The Error later.

Brenda Flynn wrote asking me to settle a "hot debate" among her friends sparked by today's story, in which I mention the name of popular dictionary publisher.

"The dictionary-maker's name is Merriam-Webster, with two 'rs'," Flynn wrote. "Votes among my friends are running slightly ahead for 'cleverly ironic misspelling'. Was it subtle irony intended for the lexocographally-inclined [sic], or was it an honest proper name mistake?"

Her friends are too kind. I wish I could say I intentionally introduced the error and our copy editors conspired with me. Alas, no. Maybe we can pretend?

Look for our correction online and in tomorrow's paper.

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