Celebrity Spell Check | Year In Review | Chicago Reader

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Celebrity Spell Check

The New Game of Artificial Intelligence


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The spelling checkers that come with computer word-processing programs are supposed to be "dumb." They can't really spell, they just compare what you've typed to a digital "dictionary" of correctly spelled words. When they encounter a word that's not in the dictionary they stop and suggest alternatives. So, for example, if I ask my version of WordPerfect to check my first name, "Oskar," it suggests that maybe I meant to type the more conventional spelling, Oscar, or one of several approximations such as asker, eschewer, and esquire. Once it stopped on "Daley" and offered no fewer than 24 alternatives, including dilly, dally, delay, dual, duel, and deal.

Wait a second, I thought--What's so dumb about that? Whereupon I became addicted to a game that (I've learned since) is wasting the time of writers across the country . Here are a few more well-known proper names and my spell checker's artificially intelligent suggestions, edited and rearranged by the computer operator.

Barney: blarney, bighorn, burn

Bo: boo, bro, bon, bs

Fabio: fab, fob, fib, phobia

Kup: chop, cheep, chap, cop

Pappas: pipes, papoose, peppiest, poops

Phair: fur, fire, fear, pair

Phelan: feline, fallen, felon

Roti: roughed, rutty, raid, rued, rid

Yoko: OK, icy, icky, ouch

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