Well, Actually, Autocorrect Saved Me


I have autocorrect turned on in my text editor for good reason. Despite my age and my level of education, it’s clear that I am not going to sort out how to spell “connoisseur”. I can either accept help or stop using the word altogether. There’s a similar problem with “accommodate”. I admit I sometimes get that right by accident by remembering to double up the letters I forgot to double up last time. I don’t know why that doesn’t work with “connoisseur”. That’s all to explain why I was typing with autocorrect on.

The sentence I was trying to write started out “Well, actually”, and the autocorrect decided what I meant was “We’ll actuate”. This happens. I erased the start and tried again, and got as far as the first `l’ in “actually” before we were actuating again. I don’t usually have this sort of problem with autocorrect. I give it a steady diet of “ahve” and “teh” and let it do what it will with “centre” and “theatre”. This should keep it happy.

My intention starting the sentence with “well” was to warm up to it. I’m wary of committing too strongly to anything without serious thought. A good “well” gives me an extra syllable to delay whatever I’m saying. If I say it aloud I might delay long enough that someone else interrupts me, and I can avoid having to say anything. I’ve often given the impression of social grace by saying only “well” and listening in wide-eyed panic that I might have to say more. And by “actually” I meant to clarify my focus wasn’t the obvious consequence of where the discussion had been, but a related point.

But I know on some level that “Well, actually” is the starting point of sentences composed by know-it-all weenies. They can’t see a discussion without finding a way that a word’s usage has shifted since the first dictionaries were carved out of igneous stone, in 1838, and want you know to know they know that and are thus better than you. I understand that. I’m a recovering know-it-all weenie myself.

I come by my know-it-all weenie nature the classic way, without technological aid. I grew up looking for any book that promised thousands of astounding and dubiously-sourced facts. The thicker the better. The bigger a series the better. I remember parts of David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace’s The People’s Almanacs better than I remember the names of my parents. And I have my father’s exact name. The complete works of Cecil Adams, even the minor books where he answers why Velma changes from the smartest to the stupidest character on Scooby Doo when her glasses fall off? Almost memorized. And that question was from Ask Dr Science anyway. If my parents had ever needed to get me out of their hair for a couple years they’d have just given me a Time-Life series on paranormal mysteries. And wait a minute, what were they doing from 1986 through 1989 that they didn’t want me interrupting anyway?

Why was it essential I gather all this stuff? I don’t know. I must have figured I’d someday be sitting on the front porch and a man wearing evening dress would pull up. He’d be in a horse-drawn carriage surely. He’d cry out, “You there! Lad! It’s an emergency! Can you tell me of some notable missing persons?” And I could promptly answer, “Judge Crater, obviously. And then there was this Austrian I think diplomat somebody who was in the 1810s or 1820s or something and he walked around a horse and nobody ever saw him again, how about that?” And he’d answer, “Excellent! You’ve saved the day!” And this despite the questionable taste of my reference. He would offer a sack full of obscure gold coins recovered from Oak Island, Nova Scotia, in payment. I would graciously decline, paid enough by having been useful when the need arose.

Of course this never happened. Through to age eighteen I spent about six minutes total on the front porch, and that includes time spent shoveling blizzards off it. It’d be impossibly unlikely the need would arise in that little window. And who’d pull a horse-drawn chariot through suburban New Jersey when we were still shoveling out after a blizzard?

And you know what know-it-all weenies are like. You can see their social behavior in the talk page of any Wikipedia article. They’re the ones arguing without any hint of irony or self-awareness that a longrunning web comic can’t be “notable” if the comic’s home page confesses it’s “the greatest comic strip you never heard of”. The “Well, actually” open is the challenge call of the unrecovered know-it-all weenie. Others know to ignore all the pedantic silliness which follow it.

So I thank my autocorrect for saving me from an innocently meant mistake, and the social oblivion which would follow. But this does make me wonder what other kinds of know-it-all weenie protection I have on my laptop. If I began a sentence “To be precise”, would it deliver a mild electric shock? If I started to write “In point of fact”, would it slap my hands? I considered starting a paragraph “Techincally.” I feared the computer would explode in a room-filling cloud of foam, leaving me unable to move until authorities cut me free. And I bet they couldn’t even name one foreign prince to cross the English Channel and rule from London since William the Conquerer, let alone two, like me. Clearly, I don’t know what I would do without autocorrect on my side.

They Also Warn Of Whimsical Dishes


I bought this neat little tea-making gadget, good for bagged or loose-leaf teas, because yeah, I’m that kind of person. You put the tea and the hot water into the main reservoir, and then you set the whole thing on top of your cup, and it drizzles out the center, and hope that when you lift the gadget up again it stops pouring, and if it doesn’t, you buy a replacement tea-making gadget, like I did in the previous sentence.

I noticed that packed with it was an advert asking me to “peruse our monthly newsletter with entertaining and interesting insights into the history and enjoyment of tea”, which is terrifying enough and a deeper connection than I really feel like for a company that sold me a tea-making gadget. Then it went on to ask that I “drop in on our lively bulletin board — you’ll meet tea-loving friends and find answers to all your tea questions.”

On the one hand, trying to strike up conversations with people with whom I share exactly one known trait — tea-drinking — is terrifying. The idea that I should have multiple tea questions ready for them to answer is all the worse. And on the other hand I’m fascinated by the idea of what an Internet community of tea-drinking people is like. And then I remember that since it’s an Internet community it’s a group of people telling one another that they drink tea wrong. Still, imagine the flame wars they must have.

It further encourages me to “take part in our monthly contest and discover the whimsical dishes created by people with a passion for cooking and tea”. That’s the sort of advertising copy to make me hide under the bed and feel vaguely bad about eating, having tea, or enjoying whimsy.

How To Overcome Popularity


If you’ve followed my advice you’ve managed to become more likable all around, and good for that. But people don’t always know how to stop once they start doing a good thing. This is how approximately 16 percent of all our problems came about: we started out doing something good, such as walking a mile each day, and then kept doing it a little more, such as two miles, or three, and before long we were walking 185 miles each day and finding ourselves far out into the ocean before lunch. Similarly, if you’ve been too good at making yourself likable it’s possible you’re spending all your free time and two-thirds of your neighbors’ keeping up with the obligations of being liked, such as asking people how they are, appearing in Likability Day parades, or trying out hats. So here’s some ways to tamp down that excessive popularity.

Likability is made or broken in small talk. Consider when someone asks you how you’re doing: the temptation is to answer “fine” or “okay” or “somebody dropped my computer from a blimp” or “my tire pressure is low”. Any of them serve to make you look like an interesting, involved person. You must crush this at any moment. Respond by looking sheepishly around and checking that it’s actually you being asked about, and if the person insists, answer that they don’t really want to know. Before long, they will. Or won’t. You know what I mean.

It’s possible this won’t be enough, and people will persist in liking you. Then it’s important to start warning them that you are unlikable, and that people shouldn’t like you. Don’t let up on this. Keep sending out the message that people don’t like you, and eventually even the people who do will give up and go on to more likable people, such as people who won’t stop talking about how they hate that Flickr and Google Maps don’t make much sense in the web browser Lynx.

If someone still hasn’t given up talking to you, computers are a great subject to make yourself less likable. This isn’t about how you use them, exactly, but rather just start talking about how foolish people are to ever buy a new computer, for any circumstance, and keep pointing out that whatever old machine they might have is perfectly usable, if you’re willing to put up with Lynx. Be relentless, something like this:

FRIEND: So I’ll be going to Best Buy to test-drive a bunch of laptops this evening.

YOU: Why do that? Your old computer’s still as good as the day you bought it. Better, if you’ve been sensibly upgrading it and keeping it on a fiber-rich software diet.

FRIEND: It was made by Commodore.

YOU: Then it’s got classic-ish lines and a BASIC that in some ways isn’t perfectly horrible.

FRIEND: And the video chip broke so all it shows on the screen is noise.

YOU: Beautiful! You can set up a web server on that, and ssh in for all your computing needs.

FRIEND: It’s a Commodore 16.

YOU: That’s great, think of the novelty value! Everyone who thought those were only made as a prank will be proven wrong. You’ll be Internet Famous if you market it right.

FRIEND: And I already dropped it over a cliff.

YOU: That’ll make such an interesting blog entry about it.

FRIEND: From a blimp.

YOU: See, who’d do that with an iPad mini?

If people persist in liking you through computer talk, shift to grammar. Everyone has something that annoys them about some words: I don’t like the phrase “grow your business” and for absolutely no rational reason. Maybe it’s because it makes me feel like I ought to have a business to grow. Find your own peeve, though, and carry on about that whenever you can. If you can’t think of something you care about, try complaining about the evolution of the word “decimate”. The only times “decimate” has been used to mean “destroy exactly one-tenth and not more or less” since 1732 has been in sentences composed by people complaining about the evolution of the word “decimate”, so it’s a well-established thing that people don’t want to hear about anymore.

If that doesn’t work, keep trying. Remember, any time you make a social interaction into an endurance contest you have already overcome likability, and congratulations on your victory.