NTNU - Norges teknisk-naturvitenskapelige universitet
Ansvarlig redaktør: Informasjonsdirektør
Anne Katharine Dahl

Jan Erik Kaarø

Teknisk ansvarlig: 
Even Gran


Stewart’s corner

Spellcheckers and GIGO

When a petroleum geologist writes a paper with "liquid entertainment" ten times and you suspect that as he is not reporting on an office party, but really meant "liquid entrainment" (Norw. medrivning), we have an authentic example of the spellchecker, automatic editing and GIGO - garbage in, garbage out. As some people have blind faith in the correctness of anything that does not have a red line under it on the screen, another definition of GIGO has been suggested - garbage in, gospel out. The potential of the spellchecker must not be underestimated. Think of a CV mentioning the "cand. mag." In Word (BE), this collection of letters is unknown and it is suggested that it is replaced by "canned ma" or even "canned Mao" ("canned" in slang means drunk). Even more potent, the "cand. philol." degree becomes "canned phalli" (phalli being the plural of phallus). Word’s mangling knows no ends. The venerable title of dr. ing. has "dr. inn" (pub) and "dr. ink" among its suggestions. If you misspell the word sponsor as "sponser", an unfortunate suggestion from Word in a letter to sponsors is "sponger" (Norw. snyltegjest). The lexical bombs in spellcheckers go on and on. Outlook Express’ spellchecker changes NOK to NOOK (a corner) and SINTEF becomes "SINTER".

What is hopeless is that sometimes spellcheckers are wrong or out of date. A typical Norwegian mistake in English is spelling "therefore" as "therefor", which in fact does exist, but in the New Oxford Dictionary of English, 1998 is classified as archaic. The version of Word (BE) I use still suggests "co-operate" and "organise" instead of the modern "cooperate" and "organize" that are listed first in the most recent BE dictionaries (New Oxford (1998), Cambridge International (1995) and Collins Cobuild (1995)).

As spellcheckers fail to distinguish between typical soundalikes and near soundalikes such as it’s and its, or affect and effect, many errors in English are caused by blindly relying on this tool.

Tricky words

reference, testimonial, certificate (all relating to employment)

Reference (Norw. her: anbefaling, attest) means a letter from an employer that refers to the ability and skills of a member of staff. It is normal to use reference or letter of reference in the heading. As you probably do not know the addressee, it is normally addressed "To whom it may concern". Thus a good opening or salutation is "Dear Sir or Madam," and the ending is then "Yours faithfully,". A collection of such letters may be referred to "his/her references". If you are applying for a job and you are asked to supply two references from referees, a referee in this sense is anyone who is willing to testify in writing about your character or ability in the context of a job application.

Testimonial (Norw. attest, testimonium) means a formal statement that refers to someone’s attainments and character. The addressee, salutation and ending can be similar to that outlined under reference. As testimonial is a formal word, it is usually best to avoid it and use reference or letter of reference. Testimonial can also be used more generally for a public statement or gift to someone: "A testimonial dinner for Professor Smith" (Norw. hedersgave). In sport, a testimonial match means a match in the honour of a player who usually gets a good deal of the income generated by the match.

Certificate (Norw. her: erklæring, attest) means a document that attests certain facts. In a work context, a

certificate of employment will state when someone started and finished a project or period of employment. The text in such a document is usually just a list of facts and is standardized as in a degree certificate or birth certificate.

Enlighteningly unhealthy English

When a French Canadian politician was applauded after a speech, he thanked his audience with these memorable words: "I thank you for giving my wife and I the clap. I thank you from the heart of my bottom."

"Many of our arithmetic senior citizens have been advised by their doctors that swimming is the best exercise…"
(Stockport Recorder, UK)

A French radio station had the following signing-off message in English:

"We hope you have enjoyed our nocturnal emissions and will be with us tomorrow for more".

"General facilities: Access for wheelchairs, restaurant, cafeteria, rooms for guests with allergy sufferers." (Narvik hotel’s web site)