Why are “scaring” and “scarring” confused by some dictionaries?

The word “scaring” and “scarring” are different orthographically by only one “r”, yet their definitions are like night and day. The word “scaring” is directly related to the word “scare”, meaning “frightening someone or something”. On the other hand, the word “scarring” is another form of the word “scar”, meaning “causing permanent tissue marks or injury”. Both the spelling and the pronunciations are distinctly different.

While an English speaker may understand the differences between these words, it has been noted that not all computers. Some users have reported using online dictionaries that are embedded with their software only to find that there are errors in the system. In some cases, looking up “scaring” or “scarring” will transfer the user to the wrong associated word, e.g. “scar” versus “scare”. How does this happen?

It should seem that some software programs utilize a stemming algorithm that can determine root words. For example, “saying” would produce the stem “say”, so the dictionary would redirect the user to “to say”. In the event of “scaring”, however, the stemming algorithm may incorrectly identify the stem of “scaring” as “scar” when it should in fact be “scare”. This error does not occur with all dictionary or software programs, but it is worth noting that such errors can exist. Be leery of such errors; if you encounter a word you aren’t as familiar with, you will risk being greatly misled from a simple glitch in a computer program. Use a handheld dictionary to ensure what is correct.


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