Spelling vs. Math

In a comment exchange on my I’m Worried About Google post, Robin and I talked about spelling bees and math bees. I was horrible at spelling when I was a child. In fairness to the truth, I’m still pretty bad. I did do pretty well in a couple of math bees, but as I explained to Robin:

“… my success may have been due to what the teachers thought was an inappropriate approach to math. But, in a Math Bee, you don’t have to ‘show your work’ so I had an advantage. Because you did have to show your work on tests, my grades were lower than you might expect. But, I’m still pretty good at math, so I’m not complaining.”

For example, while a friend was recently reaching for a calculator, I provided the answer (accurate to the required 2 decimal places) to: 50 divided by 17. I said 2.94, because:

Show your work
Show your work

3 x 17 would be 51. So we need to subtract 1/17th from 3. I don’t know what 1/17th is, but I do know that 1/16th = 0.0625 – ‘cuz rote memorization of halves, quarters, eighths and sixteenths was a thing when I was a kid – so 1/17th would be a little less than 0.06, so, yeah, 2.94.

Similarly 3 x 97 = 300 – 9 = 291

So, in a math bee, I’m golden. On paper, those are supposed to look like the stuff in the drawings, but I did the math the same way in my head, so showing my work wasn’t ever going to end well.

This is classic Apple-stupid.
This is classic Apple-stupid.

Regarding the other side of my title, I was pretty sure that my inability to spell had been fully offset by spell-check technology.

Then – I – bought – an – iPhone.

There’s just no explaining the iPhone’s spell check mechanism. I mean some cone-head at Apple can explain it, but it doesn’t make any sense. I have never written a spell-checker, but I am familiar with one method that uses a large list of known words and calculates a value called “edit distance”

I get beat up a lot for technical posts. It’s Monday, not Saturday, but I’m still a little nervous about going into the weeds on this. Maybe I’ll include it at the bottom, if I can finish without a lot more words.

In addition to the fact that the iPhone is just scary with the words it thinks are words, the kind of typing mistakes I make don’t lend themselves to being auto-corrected. Here’s a short list of my favorite typing-induced spelling errors:

The B-space error – I hit the letter ‘b’ instead of the space bar, generating errors like ‘mybhouse’ ‘mybcar’ and ‘firstbchoice’ – spell-check never helps.

The pay-it-forward error – This is when I hit the space bar, but I hit it before the first word is complete. I end up giving the last letter of word one to word two. This results in short phrases like: ‘it’s col doutside’ and ‘I coul duse more time’ – the list goes on.

Impolite error – My iPhone doesn’t seem to understand the concept of saying thank you. This results in two different errors, neither of which can be reliably corrected. Error one is the result of my pressing any key near the ‘a’ instead of the ‘a’ – ‘thsnks’ ‘thwnk you’ ‘thznks’, etc. Error two is caused when my right hand gets ahead of my left hand while typing. This yields: ‘thnaks’ or ‘thakns’ which you would think my phone could fix, if it had manners. “What do you say, iPhone?”

Surprise surprise, I used too many words so I don’t have room for the mini-lecture on ‘edit-distance’ – don’t all go “awwwwww” at once.

Please enjoy a few more of my favorite iPhone-in-action screen shots, and have a great week.


  1. You made my morning Dan, I thought it was just me!

    Just before reading your post I was ranting about how the Chrome spell checker knew that “thursday” was wrong, but offered no suggested correction… how about “Thursday”?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Les. I look at the screen sometimes and I really have to wonder. At first, I thought those must be things I typed and let slide in the past, but some of them are way too crazy, even for me. You are not alone.


  2. Wow, iPhones are not smarter than 5th graders…or 1st graders. How can a technically savvy company have such a horrible spell-check on their phone? I don’t seem to have that problem on my phone, only the one where it thinks I’m saying a naughty word and doesn’t seem to care.

    I skimmed over most of the math portion of this post. It’s not even 6:00 am and my brain is not ready for it, although your example of long division and multiplication made me smile. I wonder how many high school kids know how to do that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mary. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t give the mini-lecture on “edit distance” and one of the ways spell-checkers (are supposed to) work. As I recall, too much math, too early, or on Saturday, can jeopardize bonus points.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have always been pretty good at spelling and regular math. I can still calculate in my head and don’t have to fish around for my phone to do the work, and I like it that way. :-) I watch the younger generations and there is no spelling or calculating without the phone. And, if any of the powers that be care, I’d rather spell the word I intended incorrectly than have their suggested version inserted because in most cases it makes no sense. The idea of texting is fine, but my fingers were trained to type and not thumb. The only way I get a text message through correctly is to work on the message ‘before’ I insert the recipient. I’d be much better at it if I could text from my laptop. :-) Happy Monday, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Judy. I envy you your good spelling and ability to type. I struggle with both. I find the speech-to-text option works well, when it works, and makes a grand mess when it doesn’t. I agree with you, I’d rather send my word misspelled than their correction.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Math was never my subject, but I was a whiz at spelling. Oh, that b-space error drives me nuts. They can have spell-check but they don’t know that I mean ‘thanks much,’ not ‘thanksbmuch!’ Fun post, Dan. Happy Monday to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I know nothing about the iPhone, but my youngest brother amazed me with his mathematical abilities. Because I was so horrible at it, I thought he was a genius. Like you, he could calculate it in his head and come up with the right answer every time, but because he couldn’t work it out on paper, he flunked tests right and left. I thought that was stupid. However, he was mom’s faithful calculator at the grocery store.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sandi. I got the question a lot about being able to do the math but having bad grades on exams. I think people like your brother and I, along with my best friend John, are just wired differently. Schools, especially schools in the 50s and 60s aren’t/weren’t designed to recognize those traits. They we designed to crush them. I hope your brother was able to hang on.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, Dan. Unfortuntately, my brother destroyed his brilliant mind with drugs and alchole and spent most of his life behind bars. He died two years ago. I’m glad you hung in there!


  6. I don’t have a cell phone, but there is an autocorrect feature on the Twitter app on my tablet and it can be very annoying. I’ve yet to see the ridiculous gibberish Apple is trying to feed you, but there are definitely times when I just shake my head and think, “Really? REALLY? That’s what you think I was trying to say?” Though what burns me more than the word suggestions is when I’m trying to type something like an abbreviation or short form and it keeps automatically changing the word when I’m done typing it. Sometimes if I backspace and retype it once or twice, it will finally accept that I’m typing exactly what I want to type. But there have been other times when I retype and retype and retype 6 or 7 times and it just will NOT let me keep the word I want, the way I want it. I don’t quite understand how “DM” (short for direct message) isn’t acceptable to the app after 3 tries, but separate “D” “M” is!

    P.S. Blech, math! xP

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw, math is good, Wendy. I feel your pain, big time on the multiple auto-miscorection. If I type the same thing twice, let it be. As for the software guessing what you’re trying to say, I don’t know what group of people they used as a model, but it doesn’t represent me very well.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Having both an iPhone and Kindle with spell check turned on I can tell you Kindle is much worse! At least mine is.

    I’m rubbish at maths beyond the very basics and reconciling my check book, and my spelling ability has suffered since I use tools with spell checker. I haven’t pitched out my dictionaries though. I do still look up words that spell checker can’t figure out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A dictionary? Wow, you get bonus points for that from my (wife) editor. I don’t have a Kindle, but it’s hard to believe something worse than an iPhone at spelling – I trust you, but I am amazed. My editor would also give you bonus points for balancing your checkbook. She would never trust me to do that.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Haha, Thanxdknz or whatever, that’s awesome! My phone knows thank you and iPhone. Mmhm is mayhem though. No Mmhm for my phone.
    “Dog washed, you happy?”
    Oh yeah, good times.

    I was fab at spelling bees. Went to regionals several times and state once.
    I do math weird, too. You should see me adding up my time sheet. I bring them home for The Mister to tell me I’ve added correctly, and so far, so good, but I do the math weird, Dan.
    I never could remember all the formulas in higher math, so many, many times i was brought to the teacher’s desk to show them how I did the problem. I always got told that I’m a good problem solver, but I make it more complicated than it is. I imagine that’s why I struggle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, regional and state for spelling bee, I’m impressed. My daughter went pretty far one year. I never made it out of the first group I was in, let alone the classroom. We didn’t have many math bees, and they never had them at levels beyond the school, but I did pretty well in them. That led to my having to explain how I got the answers in the bee, but missed it on the exam. I didn’t “miss it” I just couldn’t show my work. I didn’t have to work, I did it in my head. Why isn’t that acceptable?

      Being a good problem solver is way more important than almost anything else.

      Thakns for th ecomment

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bubba and Moo are like that, and even The Mister to a certain degree. I need paper to do any borrowing or carrying, (I can money math) and there’s no way I can multiply or divide double digits in my head, although I am the percentage person and the tip person…Somethin’s not right there. Oh well, no problem, no solution needed! LOL

        Liked by 1 person

  9. You are so right in regards to the Iphone….I always am hitting the “i” key next to the “o” when I want to use an “o”. So love becomes live…I live you?????? With my photography it really becomes a pain with the i & o when I am constantly talking about this “shot” or the next “shot”….I have crapped on a number of comments because I didn’t proof read before hitting send:)

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I am so excited about your including me in this post today, Dan. Thank you! :)
    I get “b” or “v” in-between words, too!
    I also type quickly and expect the phone to have figured out how to keep up with me!
    I loved how you know how to figure to the 2nd decimal point, or what I call the “hundredths.” You are amazing and I still take pen to paper to figure out how many four, six or twelve packs of aerosol cans, oil containers and spark plugs I need to put in hampers to Advance Auto stores when they ask for larger numbers. :) :D

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wrote an outline for the math part of this right after we exchanged those comments, Robin. I didn’t want to get too deep in the math, so an odd combination was the result. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Here’s a quick lesson of a simple form of edit distance

      Edit distance is the cost of getting from an unknown word to a known word via operations on strings.

      Substitution = 1 – So, Mittin to Mitten = 1
      Insert = 1 – so Mtten to Mitten = 1
      Delete = 1 – so Mittten to Mitten = 1

      Accordingly, Mottin to Mitten = 2

      If you find that Mittin, Mtten and Mottin are not in the list of known words, you start looking for words that are in the list and could be achieved with minimal cost.

      Mittin could go to Mitten or, perhaps sittin’

      Mtten could go to Mitten

      But Mottin could go to Mitten or Cotton for the same cost

      Some variations charge 2 for substitution because, technically, it’s a deletion and an insert.

      I hope that satisfies your inner geek. In any case, I was happy to be able to write it down, phew…thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. That’s great about your Math technique. I get really frustrated texting on my phone because it is so easy to hit the wrong keys that are next to the right keys. When I am typing fast on the computer I make a lot of these types of errors as well. It is a bit embarrassing because I can’t correct comments. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Haha this was a fabulous post!! Absolutely made my day lol.
    I too hated the whole process of ‘showing the steps’ in maths exams. They had step marking and that just made it more tiring!!
    And speaking of spell check, some phones have decent ones….others well, better to open up a dictionary than use those!! ;)
    Absolutely loved the screenshots :D

    Liked by 1 person

  13. In school I sucked at Math. I actually failed in the 8th grade for not clearing Math. However, I am too good at addition, subtraction, division and multiplication. I suck at geometry, algebra and all those complicated formulae. On the bright side, I was just too good at spellings. My family and friends are somewhat terrified because I would point out their spelling errors. I also had this habit of judging people by their spellings. My friends were scared to send me birthday cards because of this habit of mine. At work my seniors won’t write emails to me and instead call me up. While I am no longer a harsh spelling-obsessed person, the fierce reputation continues to haunt everyone around me.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think so. You write well and I haven’t seen spelling errors in your posts. Even if you are “that bad” I would still put you in my exceptional list with Sarah and my close friends and family. You think I would let spellings affect our friendship. No way. :)


  14. Dan, you’re that good in Math! I’m so glad. I love the way you got that 2.94. I’m like that too. I do most of my calculations in my head. Sometimes I split figures to multiply or divide easily. For instance, if I was to multiply, say, 91 by 294, I’d do 91 (200+90+4). Then in a split second I’ll have my answer. If it involves crazy figures like 117 by 119, I’ll square (100+17) then add 234 to the result.
    It helps me a lot. The calculator slows me down. One day I was helping a colleague fill up bills of quantities. He was using a calculator while I was working out the results in my head. I beat him by far. He was starting his 3rd document when I was finishing my 7th.
    Thanks, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank you for speaking for i-phone users everywhere who hate auto-correct. That’s pretty much everybody. I also hate auto-correct on wordpress. That’s why I’ve given up posting a second comment to explain of correct the nonsensical words I typed in my first comment. I figure all my blog friends are smart enough to figure out what I meant.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I do the B-space error ALL the time, Dan, along with plenty of other mistypes. Now, you know how I am, so I go back and make sure everything is correct, but it can be extraordinarily frustrating, especially when a phone is bound and determined to “correct” what I know is already correct. And how about when you’re hurrying, you mistype a common word, and it enters the misspelled version in your phone’s memory — and thereafter subs it in every time you write it correctly after that? Arrrggghhh!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I fear that I have done exactly what you mention at the end, Paul. although I can’t imagine misspelling “thanks” so many different ways. It’s funny, I reread my comments on your blog multiple times. I try so hard not to make an error.

      Liked by 1 person

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