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“He grabbed him by the anus and dragged him down the hull” and other adventures in optical character recognition

December 28, 2010

Cleaning up my manuscripts has been, as noted in previous posts, a time-consuming chore. But the work also has its incredibly comedic moments. The sentence that open the title of this post may have been the absolute howling best created by the independent mind of Adobe OCR (substitute “arms” and “hall”) but there have been others.

“Corner” consistently comes out as “comer” – giving entirely new meaning to such lines as, “He sat in the comer and shivered.” I do believe Woody Allen sat in one of those in Sleepers and he looks like he is shivering to this day.

“Whispered” constantly comes out “whimpered,” in sentences like, “‘They’re coming!’ he whimpered.” I am not even going to say where in Blood Alone this line appeared, it would spoil the scene for you.

Then there is “Noire Dame” – and yes there is many a “dark lady” in my books but here OCR might also be describing a church as envisioned by Fritz Lang.

 Then there are the one-of-a-kinds such as:
“I suppose they would.” Austra pressed his ringers together beneath his chin. His look seemed to measure his prospective employee, and Paul began to wonder uncomfortably when the next train left for Porto.” Truly, I would wonder, too.

 “Paul scanned the form, then, frowning, red it again.” There will be plenty of red coming out of Paul, later. Not here.

 “I read your lace as easily as I do these drawings, young man.” Had I been writing a 16th century novel, this might almost make sense.

 “If he had a $ he would tell them what he thought.” Expensive thoughts, yes?

But OCR gaffes pale by comparison to what the Word spellcheck, purported to be helpful, provides. “Himself” and “herself” are apparently not in the Word vocabulary, which wants to replace with “him” and “her.” – How does “She would do it her, if she could” make any sense, even to a computer program. Silly, but not as strange as the program’s compulsive need to substitute break for brake as in, “the car had no breaks” (must have been new) and “bear” for “bare” leading to “Bear arms enfolded him” (eek!) and “the dress was bear at the shoulder” – fur-trimmed, I guess. Finally, there is “fined” for “find” (“Go and fined the car.”). The moral to writers is clear – know your grammar as you will need to do a lot of overriding of Word suggested corrections to keep your manuscript from becoming an unintentional comedy.

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