Dear Sir and/or Hey Bub

I admit it freely: I’m a little touchy about being edited. Part of my self-image is that of being a good writer. Spanish has a distinction between being able to speak a language, and dominating it. That’s me, I think: I dominate English.

So while I grudgingly accept human editing when the occasion arises, I don’t take that silliness from a software program. I’m happy to use the spelling-check functionality in Microsoft® Word®, but I rarely look at anything else. I mean, who here is the native speaker with 25+ years of professional experience as a writer and editor: me or my laptop?

But today as I completed a short assignment to redraft a communique, I first verified that there were no obvious spelling mistakes and then for some reason looked at the Refinements being offered to me. That was a first-ever. Here’s what it looked like.

Screenshot of Word spelling and grammar review

 

Hahaha. Yeah, no. The formality of my document, sir/Bub, is precisely where I want it. Just like the clarity and concision. But it did give me a new appreciation of the sophistication of the grammar checker: new insight into the level of Word®’s insight, as it were. Who knew it could recognize informality?

 

11 Comments

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  2. Marilyn Smith

    Isabel, I notice that there are 5 formality Refinements in English (US) but none in English (Canada). Doesn’t that say it all? Were the suggested “refinements” for less formality? I’ve always thought Canadian English is somewhat more formal, depending, possibly, on the subject and intended audience. Of course I can think of no specific examples just now.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Marilyn – The default for this file was US spelling/grammar. That is, it didn’t check against Canadian English. Turns out they were all suggestions to change “they’re” to “they are” – a change I’d agree with in technical/contractual writing, but not in a communique. To be fair (as we say these days) the issue with these suggestions isn’t so much their rightness/wrongness as it is the inevitable lack of contextual awareness. As for whether American or Canadian English is more formal, I don’t know. I would think that some forms of British English are more formal: as one example, it makes more use of “one” for “you” or “I”. But I’d bet that Cockney English is less formal than how I speak.

  3. When I have a moment, I must look into this feature of Word. Like you, I anticipate an argument. Some days that is salutary – or is this too formal an expression? What the hey, I like to exercise my big words.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Judith – I wonder whether it’s a new feature, arising from the latest update. I don’t remember having seen it before . . . not that that means much. And in a world that includes Conrad Black, your use of big words cannot possibly be excessive or your constructions too formal.

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