Avoid embarrassing typos

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At the end of my “Best of OS X 10.5 Hints” session at Macworld Expo last week, an attendee asked me a question about Apple’s dictionary that stumped me for a moment. Of course, walking out of the room after everyone had left, a possible solution came to mind—about five minutes too late to help her, of course. So I thought I’d write up the question and solution here, in the possible chance that she stumbles across the entry. And perhaps this may be of use to others, as well.

The question this user posed to me was basically this: “Is there any way to get the Apple dictionary to mark a real word as being incorrectly spelled? In other words, I’d like a certain word to always get the red underline, even though that word is actually correct.” I believe my reply at that point was along the lines of “huh?”

She then explained that she works in some sort of public agency, and supports a number of users. In their work, they’re often required to type the word public, and that’s the source of the problem: occasionally her users will miss the “l” in public, resulting in a correctly-spelled but so not-right-for-the-situation word. Apple’s spellcheck won’t flag the word, of course, because it is a word. So the essence of her question was “Is there any way to make sure that we don’t send out documents with the incorrect word in them by flagging them somehow?”

Of course it’s not possible to remove entries from the Apple dictionary, which is why I was initially stumped. Unfortunately, that’s where I stopped thinking. The solution? One of the third-party text expansion utilities, such as TypeIt4Me or TextExpander. These programs run in the background, watching every character you type. When they see a sequence they recognize, they jump into action, replacing the sequence with an expanded version that you’ve defined.

For instance, I have a sequence set up on my Mac so that whenever I type ddate, the machine inserts a formatted version of today’s date: Friday, January 18, 2008.

It turns out, though, that these apps will also address the problem this user was experiencing. All she needs to do is define the word pubic as a snippet, with an expansion of public. Then, any time a user types the incorrect word—in any application—it will automatically be replaced with the public one. You could take this further, of course, and set up entries that would replace all sorts of inappropriate-for-the-context words with other more benign versions.

So, for the person who asked about this after my presentation, sorry I couldn’t come up with this answer at that time… but hopefully you’re checking this blog, and you’ve now got your answer.

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