My blog platform comes with an “editor” that is unreliable. If I were to write, “I brake for animals,” fifty percent of the time it would suggest “break” with the word underlined in red. That substitution would have earned a student an F in my English class.
The program also objects to the length of my sentences. My writing is too difficult for the average reader it chides. Suspicious, one day I entered a column by David Brook of the New York Times. The screen flashed neon red, as I were walking through De Wallen, the fleshpot district of Amsterdam.
I admit, the program does curb my use of passive voice, which is good. But it confuses passive voice with passive descriptions. In my blog of May 10, 2017, I wrote: “One woman in San Francisco was forever at the mercy of her housekeeper.” Arguably, I could have written, ”The housekeeper kept her employer at her mercy.” But the second sentence lacked the lethargy I required. The algorithm had not taste for subtlety. It flashed red, like a stop sign.
The program knows nothing about alliteration, either — the repetition of words to achieve a specific rhythm. In the same blog I quoted earlier, I wrote, “Her car needed new brakes; her son required a set of dentures; her husband needed bail money.” The screen blinked with apoplexy. “Too many sentences beginning with the same word.”
“Au contraire,” I bristled. “I’ve written one sentence divided by semi colons.” The algorithm refused to flicker. Possibly, it doesn’t understand French.
Given the bad blood between the algorithm and me, imagine my surprise when I received a message from its creator. “We notice you are using our program in your work. Would you care to comment on its usefulness?
I typed several expletives in response and smiled as my words flared crimson across the screen. But, so much bloodletting gave me pause. Do I dare anger the algorithm? I deleted the message and wrote again, as if to whisper: “Could you tell me how to shut the bloody thing off!”