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The Spell Checker Poem, by Mark Eckman and Jerrold H. Zar

The Facts Behind "Candidate for a Pullet Surprise"

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The Spell Checker Poem, by Mark Eckman and Jerrold H. Zar

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed.

At one time or another you've probably run across some version of what's commonly known as "The Spell Checker Poem." Originally composed in 1991, its first official appearance was in The Journal of Irreproducible Results in 1994. Since then, it has made its way around the Internet under various titles, including "Spell Checker Blues," "Owed to a Spelling Checker," and "Spellbound." Almost always the poem is attributed to Anonymous or, more playfully, "Sauce unknown."

Let's set the record straight. The title of the poem as we know it today is "Candidate for a Pullet Surprise," and the expanded version was composed in 1992 by Dr. Jerrold H. Zar, professor emeritus of biology and retired dean of the graduate school at Northern Illinois University. According to Dr. Zar, the title was suggested by Pamela Brown, the opening lines were drafted by Mark Eckman, and 123 of the poem's 225 words are faulty, although all are correctly spelled.

Update from Mr. Mark Eckman

Early in March 2007, Mark Eckman was kind enough to provide us with additional information about his role in creating the spell-checker poem. Back in 1991, when Mr. Eckman was working for AT&T, "e-mail was becoming a rage," he writes, "but it was also changing rapidly":

". . . Somehow the software discussion became two camps of thought. On one side was the marketing staff saying we should have a spelling checker in the software since most users of e-mail were not skilled typists. On the polar opposite was the group that believed you should not be writing e-mails if you can't spell.

"After about two weeks of this give and take, I sent off the first two verses. My intent was to see if people would return to thinking rather than arguing, and after the ditty appeared in AT&T Today [a daily e-mail of news updates], the discussion came to a grinding halt. Shortly after this I received an e-mail from someone I had not contacted before with pages and pages of additional verses.

" . . . In 1994 or 1995 I was doing a presentation on search engines, entered my name and Dr. Zar's article came up. I was stunned.

"Lost in all that has passed was the intent and the original two verses. I like to think the original was more subtle.

I have a spelling checker
It came with my PC
It highlights for my review
Mistakes I cannot sea.

I ran this poem thru it
I'm sure your pleased to no
Its letter perfect in it's weigh
My checker told me sew.


"I never dreamed what happened after I deleted the file. At least I did not start text messaging shorthand."

Our thanks to Mr. Eckman for helping us set the record straight.

The Spell-Checker Poem

More than an exercise in homophonous humor, "Candidate for a Pullet Surprise" endures as a cautionary tale for all those who place too much trust in spell checkers.

Candidate for a Pullet Surprise
by Mark Eckman and Jerrold H. Zar

I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it's weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.

A checker is a bless sing,
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when eye rime.

Each frays come posed up on my screen
Eye trussed too bee a joule.
The checker pours o'er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.

Bee fore a veiling checker's
Hour spelling mite decline,
And if we're lacks oar have a laps,
We wood bee maid too wine.

Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
Their are know fault's with in my cite,
Of nun eye am a wear.

Now spelling does knot phase me,
It does knot bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped word's fare as hear.

To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should bee proud,
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaw's are knot aloud.

Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays
Such soft wear four pea seas,
And why eye brake in two averse
Buy righting want too pleas.

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