For a long time I have used MS Word as my word processing program, along with everyone else, right? Well, recently it got all glitchy on my Mac and caused more problems than it was worth. So I loaded the iWork suite of software, which is the Apple equivalent of MS Office. Page is Word’s doppelgänger. It is similar in most respects with the exception that it works flawlessly on my Mac since it was built around the Macintosh operating system. It has made my writing life easier.
One of the differences is not a huge one but has made an impact on my writing. You have no doubt seen those little red underlines, which indicate that you have misspelled a word. I see those red lines a lot, I am an atrocious speller so I praise the guy who invented spell check. You may also be familiar with similar green underlines, which attempt to alert the writer to grammatical errors.
Both Page and Word have grammar and spell check, but Page’s grammar check seems to be more robust. Spell check is rather straight forward, a database is checked and a list of probable words are offered to replace the offending misspelling. Grammar is slightly different type of beast. I know that these automated functions will never replace our beloved flesh and blood Editors. There is nothing like a second pair of eyes, but grammar check has nudged me in the right direction and hopefully the editor of my next project will be using less red ink because of it.
Those green little underlines have lent a helping hand and I have made a few changes to what I write because of them. There are certain modifiers that it flags as being overused or weak. Words such as nice or pretty. Nice gets flagged with the following: “Weak modifier. Consider using a more precise expression.” The word pretty is cited as being an “over used modifier,” which I am advised to “use sparingly.”
That’s a pretty nice feature—Doh!—I just got green-lined. Can you imagine what kind of reaction you would get if you told your significant other that he or she looked pretty nice? That’s not too different from telling an artist that a latest work is interesting or describing a chef’s meal as tasting fine. I think that would be described as damning with faint praise.
In the phrase “a pretty nice feature,” the word nice could easily be replaced with useful, helpful, nifty, practical, valuable, worthy, beneficial, instructive, constructive, worthwhile, convenient, or effective among other choices. The word pretty is superfluous. As a modifier it weakens the meaning. In this particular use it means moderately or nearly. What I want it to mean is very, exceptionally, highly, exceedingly or quite. So instead of “that’s a pretty nice feature,” it would be more accurate to write, “that’s a very worthwhile feature.”
I often find myself reaching for words out of convenience rather than taking the time to put down what I really intend to convey. The green underline has become a friend of sorts. Whenever I see one I can hear a voice in my head saying, “Come on, really? You can do better than that.” My goal is to go green-less, but in the meantime I am willing to learn from my mistakes.