The Trouble with a Digital Nudnik


We’re as accustomed to technology as any middle-aged women can be. We friend, text, blog, and Google. But lately AutoCorrect has been getting on our nerves. Even our kids, who grew up in the digital age, are getting sick of being constantly corrected by him and his older brother, SpellCheck.

Joyce’s daughter, Samantha, discovered that when she was too lazy to capitalize the J, jewish morphed into jewfish. And when we sent a text including the Yiddish word fapitzed (overdressed or all dolled up), AutoCorrect turned it into baptized. Yes, they have a few letters in common, but not much else – although, have you seen some of those babies who get all fapitzed in lace-trimmed organza baptism gowns?

Maybe if we were better typists, we would never encounter AutoCorrect. But perfect typists – like Joyce’s mother, who was named the “Fred Astaire of the Typewriter” in 1945 – are an extinct species. Touting your typing skills today would be like bragging that you’re the fastest phone dialer, have the biggest record collection, and can make four carbon copies without a smudge.

SpellCheck has better manners than his brother. He gently expresses his concern with a wiggly, red underline, offers his suggestions, and then steps aside if you click to ignore him. But AutoCorrect, without asking permission, jumps in with what he thinks is best. How dare he suggest we mean nude instead of nudnik? We know a nudnik (a bore or nuisance) when we meet one, and he is a nudnik!

We’ve been telling our kids for years that SpellCheck won’t tell them it’s wrong to “put there book over their.” He only knows how to spell words, not how to use them.

So why do these guys think they know so much? They apparently studied with Vladimir Levenshtein, a Russian scientist who devised a way to measure the distance between two words. With one keystroke, or a “Levenshtein distance” of 1, stack becomes snack; with two, prey becomes pray and then becomes play. Levenshtein’s algorithm is the basis of SpellCheck, AutoCorrect, and other smart-alecky programs.

Levenshtein distance reminds us of the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. We don’t know Vladimir Levenshtein, but if his theory is correct, didn’t he once date our old friend Sue Goldstein’s sister’s college roommate who knew Lenny Shusterman?

We have to admit that in some ways AutoCorrect reminds us of ourselves. Like us, he can be helpful, funny, right (sometimes), and annoying (now and again). Even though we complain about him, the truth is that we’re jealous of his ability to pop in at any time with an unsolicited suggestion. That’s every mother’s dream.

It’s inspired us to dream about an Instant Mothering AutoCorrect (IMAC) to rewrite teen texts like this:

Text from son to friend: Meet you @ Wawa 11 pm. May b Carly’s hanging out. IMAC version: Can’t meet you at Wawa. Have to finish all of my homework and get a good night’s sleep.

Text from daughter to friend: Parents out tonight. Party @ my house. IMAC: Staying home tonight. Have to be good.

Back to reality – and to coexisting with our irritating coauthors. Could they at least leave our names alone? It’s Scolnic, not Scenic. And Eisenberg does not follow that “i before e” rule.

(ed. note: This originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer  10/22)
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This entry was posted in Dictionary of Jewish Words, Jewish mothers, technology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Trouble with a Digital Nudnik

  1. hello Shmoozing With the Word Mavens , i look your blog , this a nice blog and perfect. Good for everyone. useful award and writing content. i will often to read and comment your blog.

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