Paging Sargent Batchelor

Brand new in Office 2007: a red squiggle on the name Batchelor. Uh oh. I’d better explain.

Everyone wants the Office spellchecker to recognize their name, and in fact we work very hard to make sure that our spellcheckers recognize not only frequently used first and last names, but also a great many names that occur less frequently, especially if they are well-known and/or hard to spell, such as, say, Denzel or Schwarzenegger. (Or Teixeira .) But there are also names that we deliberately get “wrong”. Sargent is a perfect example. While Sargent is a reasonably frequent name (and a fairly well-known one, thanks to politician Shriver and painter John Singer), it is also a very frequent misspelling of the word Sergeant. We refer to this type of word as “masking” because a frequent spelling error (Sargent for Sergeant) is masked by being a correct but infrequent spelling of a different word.

In principle it’s very hard to tell, when a user types “Sargent”, what exactly they intended (even if you have a contextual speller). So we have to strike a balance between being helpful to the sergeant-spellers on the one hand, and annoying the Sargent-spellers on the other. So there’s always been a red squiggle on Sargent, because we’ve found it’s more important to be helpful in the vastly larger number of cases in which people are trying to spell sergeant.

Which brings us to Batchelor. In previous versions of Office, we have treated this word as correctly spelled, so long as you spelled it with a capital “B”, on the strength of its frequency as a name for people (such as inventor Charles) or places (such as the town in Louisiana or in Australia’s Northern Territory). But in the final release of Office 2007 you will see a red squiggle under Batchelor, because we found that on the helpful-vs.-annoying scale, users need to correctly spell Bachelor far more often than Batchelor. This is just one of literally thousands of changes we’ve made to our spellcheckers to improve the overall user experience for Office 2007.

So, what if you or someone you love is actually named Batchelor? Or Sargent? Or even Sargent Batchelor? It’s still possible as always to add any word you like to your Custom Dictionary by clicking “Add To Dictionary” when you run the spellchecker.

-- James Lyle (Test Lead)