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Scaring is related to the word scare, while scarring is related to the word scar.

Why is it that some dictionaries get these two words confused?

For example, when you use Mac OS X Lion's lookup feature on the word scaring, you get the result for scar instead of scare:

enter image description here

Looking at Apple's built-in Dictionary app gives us a bit more insight into the source of the problem. If you search for the word scaring, you get the following result:


Notice how it shows entries for both scar and scare. Notice, also, that scarring appears under the word scar. The entry for scare has no form ending in -ing:

enter image description here

Had this only been an issue in Apple's OS, I would think it's a bug specific to that system. However, this appears in other dictionaries as well. The second result on Google for the word scaring is from The Free Dictionary, and their entry for scaring takes you to the entry for scar.

Why do some dictionaries get these words confused?

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closed as off topic by MετάEd, Urbycoz, waiwai933 Jul 25 '12 at 22:05

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Interesting bug you found, but not all Macs do that. (There were no scar references in my lookups, even after scrolling). –  J.R. Jul 23 '12 at 9:38
@iennisei: Please add that as an answer. That said, I'm unsure about how on-topic this question is ... –  coleopterist Jul 23 '12 at 9:41
@coleopterist Done. I am also unsure how on-topic this is. –  ienissei Jul 23 '12 at 10:10
This isn't an American versus British English thing, is it? –  Andrew Grimm Jul 23 '12 at 13:10
Off topic. This isn't about English usage. It's just a software bug. –  Mechanical snail Jul 24 '12 at 9:56

2 Answers 2

I think it may be a problem with computer-based dictionaries. The Apple one for instance takes the word you give it, removes any plural, -ing or -ed form it may have, and looks for the closest entries from the stem thereby obtained.

Since "scar" and "scare" are so close, it would show both, just in case (quite useful if you confuse words yourself). And since the pop-up version is a bit dumb, it shows only the first one (deemed closest). So, I think it is just a case where the AI does not work too well…

Hence, it is a software problem, not a language-related one (to sum up what the comments have suggested so far).

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The process of deriving the root form of a word is called stemming. Apple has a flaw in their stemming algorithm. –  donothingsuccessfully Jul 23 '12 at 18:12
Thanks, I didn't know it was called that (English is not my native language). –  ienissei Jul 23 '12 at 20:00

I suppose it's because you're leaving all the work to a machine.

Personally, when I want to look up the V+ing form of a Verb (scaring), I don't type that form as it is. First, I guess the base form (scare) then this is what I type for the search.

I just did this in fact, and I could instantly find the word "scaring" under the entry "scare" in all three dictionaries:

  1. The Free Dictionary (scare)

  2. Merriam-Webster (scare)

  3. Dictionary.com (scare)

The apps were just servants overeager to offer you all sorts of suggestions for what you might need.

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