Today’s Thing I Am Not Okay With

Google’s spellchecker attempting to correct “all right” to “alright.”


57 Comments on “Today’s Thing I Am Not Okay With”

  1. Oxford says: “Is it acceptable to write alright as one word, rather than two separate ones? For example: She calls them whenever she is travelling to assure them she is alright.
    Similar ‘merged’ words such as altogether and already have been accepted in standard English for a very long time, so there is no logical reason to object to the one-word form alright. Nevertheless, many people dislike it and regard it as incorrect, so it’s best to avoid using alright in formal writing. Write it as two separate words instead: She calls them whenever she is travelling to assure them she is all right.”

    Was that a formal piece?

  2. I’m totally alright with using it, John, but it does seem annoying that Google would correct a perfectly valid usage.

  3. When I complain about Googles auto check feature, I usually spell it Otto Czech, and it never corrects it.
    Conflicted about “alright.” If I want to tell someone I’m alright, that seems okay as an informal contraction, but formally other things should be “all right.” Weird.

  4. Both are perfectly valid, until you put it into context, I suppose. Like the “Are you alright?” that’s where I would use it as one word. But if it’s along the lines of “Are they all right turns?” or “The answers are all right.” (as in all correct) then… kind of not okay.
    I have a couple of “corrections” that stick out — Google wanting it to go from “hard on” to “hardon.” No, Google, I’m not talking about that! I’m talking about “my dad was hard on me when I was a kid” kind of “hard on”. The other is when I type a thing and Google doesn’t like it, but the suggested change is exactly what I already have — or something that makes it SO wonky it would have made more sense to throw in toddler gibberish.

  5. Next they’ll be correcting “loser” (contextual opposite of “winner”) with “looser.” That one makes me grind my teeth, but the semi-literate internet kids do it so often that it’s just a matter of time until it becomes the “aprooved” way to spell it. I hope I’m not around anymore when that happens.

  6. Back in high school (we are contemporaries John) I used these as code. Alright was the default response to how are you or okay, let’s do this. i.e. should we go to lunch at the bunny hutch? Alright.

    All Right was more sacred. as in “I am ALL Right with things”.

  7. If you give in on “alright” how could you object when “imma” (I am going to) enters your spellchecker’s vocabulary?

  8. Jada: They don’t subtitle him correctly. He’s really saying: “All right/alright? All right.”

  9. I always found “all right” annoying, even if it is the proper usage. It’s used as one word and flies in the face of “already,” which used to be “all ready.” Why one and not the other?

  10. If I did well on a grammar test at school I would get the questions “all right” NOT “alright”.

  11. Dear Pianoman,

    Why would you want to die so young!?

    I’ve been watching the lose/loose evolution for longer than the Web (it occasionally pops up in respectable well-edited publications). My english-major guess/prediction is that it’s real linguistic drift and “lose” is going to become archaic. They’ve similar pronunciations as well as spellings, and “lose”‘s makes less sense. Their distinct meanings fit into the vaguely-same cognitive space. At the same time, it takes work to write a sentence that’s ambiguous if “loose” takes over. Yeah it’s possible: “I worry about the consequences, should I loose my dog.” But you really do have to make an effort. There won’t be any undue loss of clarity nor of comprehension.

    It will hardly be the first time for this sort of English change.

    OTOH, aside from regularizing spelling/pronunciation, there’s little evolutionary pressure for “approove.” It could happen…

    pax / pedantic Ctein
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery
    — Digital Restorations

  12. “Alright” is an interesting case where a word followed a perfectly normal pattern of development for English words, but happened to get caught up in a usage debate. Compound words utterly routinely start out written as two words, which then get smushed together into one, sometimes with a hyphenated intermediate stage. Don’t believe me? Pull up a facsimile of the first edition of the King James Bible. This process shows up all over the place, with stuff like “every one” where today we would write “everyone.” “Baseball” in the 19th century was usually, though not always, written out as two words: “base ball.” And so on. This is utterly routine. With “alright” it started the process, along with any number of other “all” compounds, but came up a big loser in some stupid usage guide written by someone who didn’t understand the issue. This happens depressingly often. Are you outraged by “11 items or less” at the supermarket? That comes from a particularly stupid late 18th century usage guide. Most of these dicta disappear quietly, but some random selection get picked up and repeated over and over and people who don’t understand the issue declare this stupid dictum to be a defining example of Right and Wrong.

    A particularly interesting similar case is the distinction between “lie” and “lay.” In Old English many verbs had distinct transitive and intransitive forms. The intransitive was typically a stative verb. Consider the difference between “John is burning a candle” and “The candle is burning.” In Old English that “burning” would take different forms, inflected differently. Over the Middle English period most of these doublets collapsed into one another. Only four remain in Modern English: lie/lay, sit/set, rise/raise, and fall/fell (that last in the rare sense of fell a tree). Lie/lay was on its way to collapsing together when it got caught up in one of those stupid usage debates and declared a shibboleth. The collapse has largely, though not entirely, happened anyway in spoken English and is mostly a shibboleth in writing. I give it a century before people finally drop it.

  13. Even if “alright” were all right, it shouldn’t be automatically substituted, since “all right” is already cromulent.

  14. My favorite inflectional shift is pea/pease. This was a case of a mistaken plural. “Pease” was a mass noun referring to a quantity of certain legumes. This is in the same way that “wheat” is a quantity of a certain cereal grain. It was misinterpreted as the plural of “pea,” which in turn was taken to refer to a single seed of that plant. The older form survives in the nursery rhyme “Pease porridge hot…”, pease porridge being what we now usually call pea soup.

    See also: cherry, from the French cerise.

  15. To bring it home, if you claim that “alright” is ungrammatical, or mixing up “lie” and “lay,” but have no objection to pea/peas, or cherry/cherries, then explain this apparently inconsistency. You will receive extra points if you can come up with something better than “changes that occurred within the last three hundred years are bad, but changes that happened four hundred or more years ago are good.’

  16. Given that both appear to be correct (though “all right” appears to be preferred by prescriptivists), Google’s spellchecker should keep its nose out of the debate.

  17. I typically reserve “alright” for dialogue or informal narrative, when it suits the character. There are, of course, instances where the meaning of the sentence changes with one or the other usage, so it’s obviously important to know the differences. Spell checkers can make some funny suggestions. Most irritating to me is when “its” becomes “it’s.”

    I try not to get too caught up in language usage debates. I personally love the fluidity of language and seeing it evolve with time. It seems to happen at an accelerated pace with modern technology which provides us with the historically unique opportunity to observe these changes in real time.

    Overly pedantic language “rules” often mask classist and racist attitudes, in my experience, too. If I have an unusually strong reaction to a particular “misuse” of language, I like to examine why before I attempt to correct someone (I generally don’t).

  18. It’s been around longer than either of us (The Who recorded “The Kids Are Alright” in 1965) and may be technically acceptable, but it’s still Utterly Wrong.

  19. I don’t care for making “back seat” one word, except when it’s used as an adjective. Same thing with “back yard” and there are probably some more that I can’t think of at the moment.

  20. @Pianoman: That’s what they get for versing each other all the time.

    @S.C. Jensen: I’m a professional editor. One of my friends, upon receiving a spelling correction from me, asked why I was doing editing work I wasn’t being paid for. I suppose that was more effective than calling me a pedantic jerk, because it got me to realize I don’t have to fix or even comment on every mistake. It is occasionally still a struggle, but in generally I’m all right with that.

  21. Dear rrhersh,

    Much as I share your enjoyment of linguistic history, I feel compelled to take exception to certain expressed attitudes. The debates and accompanying pedantries are not “stupid,” they are a natural part of a constantly changing, living language. Similarly, no one is obligated to explain any “inconsistency” in usages, not to you nor me nor anyone else. Consistency is simply not a requirement of English, nor is temporal independence. Rather, the opposite!

    English is the exemplar of a consensus reality (in truth, realities. English contains more than one lect). It is no more and no less than the aggregate of its users’ contemporary preferences.

    Many things have changed since my elementary school days, six decades ago, even in Standard Written English– the role of the serial comma, the singular “they,” and contractions as examples. What was once true becomes false, what was once optional becomes obligatory. And vice-versa.

    What it is not is stupid nor improperly inconsistent.

    pax / perpetually pedantic Ctein
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery
    — Digital Restorations

  22. I agree with others that it will ultimately change, but “all right” is what I’ll continue to use. Alright just looks wrong to me. Also like others, Otto Czech (awesome!) and I disagree pretty regularly on grammar and usage.

    While I’m here, shout out to the Oxford comma!

  23. “All right” and “Alright” have different meanings. I’m gonna trust Scalzi over Google that he was using the one he wanted.

  24. My personal axe to grind is Microsoft Word telling me that “some time” should be “sometime”. I need to spend some time figuring out how to turn off this faux correction.

  25. From the OED:

    “The merging of all and right to form the one-word spelling alright is first recorded toward the end of the 19th century (unlike other similar merged spellings such as altogether and already, which date from much earlier). There is no logical reason for insisting that all right be two words when other single-word forms such as altogether have long been accepted. Nevertheless, although found widely, alright remains nonstandard”

  26. Google Assistant gives “miniscule” as the correct spelling of “minuscule”, last I checked. Granted, this is a case where the former spelling seems to be taking over, but most other authorities list “minuscule” as standard.

  27. I’ve been seeing “alright” in ARCs (advance reader copies) of UK books for a while (not “awhile”) now, but I thought maybe it was something that would be caught later in the production process. (An ARC is nearly always marked as an “uncorrected proof.”) Maybe I’ve been seeing another UK/US usage difference instead of an error.

    And while Ctein’s take on linguistic change is orthodox (it was central to my training more than fifty years ago), the loose/lose distinction is a bit different from all right/alright (shudder), since the two words are not semantically close, and they are distinguished by the quality of the final consonant: unvoiced [s] versus voiced [z]. Same goes for looser/loser. The orthography signals a semantic and pronunciation distinction. (Though a feature of Fargo-style Minnesota dialect is to substitute [s] for [z], sometimes signalled in spelling by doubling the s, doncha know.)

    From the viewpoint of an English teacher (as I once was and remain married to one), many of the usage issues that appear in student writing are signals of reading problems, some of which seem to go back to badly flawed teaching of basics, since a significant number of my wife’s students cannot sound out unfamiliar words. (Many of which ought to be in the recognition vocabulary of a 20-year-old college junior or senior, which points to a general poverty of reading experience.) Usage may be a matter of convention and thus subject to change, but part of being an effective writer is being aware of register and which conventions are expected in a given context. My wife is constantly reminding her students that an academic essay is not a text-to-a-friend or an informal, personal blog post or letter home. Register registers. Doncha know.

  28. Altogether and all together don’t mean the same thing. The first means “totally” and the second “being at the same place and time.” I can’t think of a difference between alright and all right, when right means OK. The former should be the standard use (or will be in fifty years) and the latter used only for different meanings of right. For example, all right turns on red are legal unless otherwise prohibited.

  29. Dear Russell,

    I am in agreement on all counts.

    Further, if I created any confusion in people’s minds that I thought “alright” and “loose” were equivalent cases, I apologize for my lack of clarity. I think are both cases of linguistic drift, but they are not drifting for the same reason.

    I think your point about being an effective writer cannot be stated too often. Precisely because each lect of English is a consensus reality, no one of us gets to decide “this is okay and screw anyone else’s opinion.” I’ve been pushing the singular-they on my editors for decades, because it’s always been grammatical even if not (until recently) part of SWE. Nine times out of ten I’ve lost that one, as an individual, although I’m part of a collective shift towards acceptance.


    Dear Sean,

    It is important for lay people to understand that Legalese is a distinct lect from SWE. Think of it more akin to computer code than English; it attempts to be as unambiguous as possible. Trying to read it as English works about as well as trying to read BASIC as English, or not understanding why punctuation is so important in C++.

    Professional authors get pretty good at reading Legalese as a survival trait!

    pax / Ctein
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery
    — Digital Restorations

  30. @Scalzi: Slacker Millennials gotta slack.

    @Dirck: One of my .signature blocks furnishes pro bono publico this helpful ditty:

    To you, this thought
    I gently allot:


    My very favourite usage gaffe was years ago when I was listening to Jim Svejda’s long-running KUSC classical music program The Record Shelf, and Svejda, impressed with English composer Arnold Bax’s extensive body of work, commented on ‘the enormity of his output’. I wrote to Mr. Svejda with a friendly word to the wise, that ‘enormity’ unfortunately doesn’t mean largeness but rather great and surpassing wickedness — such that the term lacks application in musicology except (of course) the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

    (Anyway, as they say in the RPG ‘Paranoia’, trust The Computer. Rumours are Treason, Friend Citizen, and make The Computer UnHappy.)

  31. I’m surprised that a spell checker would prefer ‘alright’ over ‘all right’, given the extremely low usage of alright compared to all right. Check out the ngram plot for the two. Based on this, I think this is not a case where alright is replacing all right in common usage.

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