The Problem With Celeb Spellcheck

The wildly popular Instagram account, @celeb_spellcheck, boasts over 140k followers. But when does calling out lexical gaffes turn from light-hearted humour to something more harmful?

There's no need for a Gossip Girl reboot when Aussies have a gossip mastermind in their own backyard. Following in the footsteps of Instagram's favourite celebrity rumour mill DeuxMoi, Celeb Spellcheck is on the prowl for influencers, reality stars and local celebs' social media slip-ups.

With over 148k followers, Celeb Spellcheck has raked up a loyal support base that delight in the light mocking of celebs. The unique brand of celebrity prodding has become a sport of sorts – with a comments section replete with all the raucous sniggering and gleeful tagging you could ask for. 

There's the copy and pasted captions that embarrassingly leave in the, "Hey babe, here is the approved caption for tonight," to spelling 'no offence' as 'no fense' or posting an Instagram story filter that reads 'good morning' when the time stamp reads 4:49pm. 

To be fair, it's not hard to understand the account's appeal. I too laughed when an influencer was asked, "how are you, really?" to which she replied: "I don't know why I find this so funny but I'm 173cms, on the taller side for a girl".

But could there be a problematic undertone to all of this? 

While prejudicial remarks that slap off racism or homophobia are at least somewhat frowned upon in the public eye, mocking a person's spelling mistake or lack of grammatical prowess is arguably completely fair game.

"People make judgements about language all the time," Kate Burridge, Professor of Linguistics at Monash University tells me. She points me to a quote by fellow linguist Deborah Cameron: "Linguistic bigotry is among the last publicly expressible prejudices left."

I ask Kate if being a stickler for perfect syntax could be characterised as a form of prejudice. "It's definitely discriminatory," she responds. "Linguistic prejudices just seem to be accepted without challenge. You get this, whether it's conscious or unconscious discrimination against these speakers of non-standard dialects and low-status accents." Forms of English that vary from Standard English are sneered down on – think bogan accents, 'youse' and the frequent use of 'ain't'. 

With one-third of Australians having been born overseas, the struggle of English being your second (or third) language can be taxing. Yet, mocking non-white accents and pronunciation remains par for the course. "There can be a fallout, you know, [like] whether [someone] get[s] a job or not," Kate says. 

The impulse to correct people's English may also disproportionately impact those with disabilities. Approximately one in 10 Australians, for example, are affected by dyslexia, a learning disorder known to affect your ability to render the Queen's English with ease. Other disabilities and developmental disorders can affect one's writing abilities too, while chronic illnesses can make spell-checking and proper grammar a burden.

And is it really fair to dismiss what a human has to say, all because of a missing comma or a misspelt word?. To do so would be doing a major disservice, not only to our peers, for reducing what they have to say to how well they can adhere to some stickler's idea of 'the rules', but a disservice to ourselves for pulling away from others, all because they didn't satisfy our understanding of how to pronounce 'bruschetta'.

There's also privilege that comes with being able to perfect your literacy skills to the extent you feel empowered enough to correct others. Educational levels and class all dictate a person's ability to grapple with grammatical rules and spelling skills – we didn't come out of the womb knowing when to use an Oxford comma. All of this suggests that the urge to correct another person's English, who may, for example, come from a lower socioeconomic background, can smack of elitism. 

Over its year-long existence, the woman behind Celeb Spellcheck has already drawn a few critics, but has so far denied all claims of bullying. Instead, she insists the account is "meant to be light-hearted and fun". 

"I have definitely posted things in the past that I'm not proud of, but I do try to never cross the line," she said on Instagram. She also said that if someone asks not to be featured on her account, she respects their wishes. While the anonymous Instagrammer declined to be interviewed, she did concede these themes of prejudice are something she's "been pondering a lot lately".

After mysteriously archiving all her posts for just over a week, Celeb Spellcheck is back online. "There's a lot to consider in terms of whether or not to reveal my identity, whether to monetise the account, whether to dabble in gossip, what kind of content is and isn't acceptable with an audience of this size etc," she said in an Instagram story. 

When I ask Kate whether pointing fun at errors can be looked at as a bit of harmless fun, she was quick to shut me down. "No, it's very harmful!" she tells me. "Language is who we are, it's so much a part of us. It's an arrogance too, isn't it? Sort of, my language is pure and yours isn't. And when people [point out] what they consider to be incorrect usage, it's worth [questioning] what that means". 

That arrogance Kate is referring to is known as language purity: a tendency to see one form of language as 'purer' than another. It's also used as a vehicle to gate keep who is seen as worth listening to. And it's usually those in positions of power who end up dictating what's right and what isn't. So the next time someone corrects you on your 'incorrect' English, it's worth throwing back to them: according to who?  

TL; DR: Jsut bc theres typos, it doesnt mean that we shouldn't here what someone has to say, imo.

 Written by Maggie Zhou, a Melbourne-based writer and typical Gen Z media slashie. Find her typo-filled words and overuse of internet slang on her Instagram @yemagz.

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