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Overload Journal #30 - Feb 1999 + Letters to the Editor   Author: Ray Hall

Left, Right, and Spellchekka's

Dear editor

I sympathise with your problem about L/R instructions, and am reminded of a situation in which my brother-in -law was almost killed by his passenger's repeated insistence that he turn right (aka left)!

It was entertaining of you to trail your proto-dyslexia in column one and then put a pair of test spellings in column two. "Ideom" could have been picked up by a spelchekka (unless one were unlucky enough to have incorporated it in the personal dictionary) but "pouring" is a properly formed word, even if the mind boggles at the concept.

I used to wonder why people with an intense regard for syntax in C++ had a looser approach to natural English, but the problem there is imprecise syntax (but also see Scientific American, Winter 98 p 46) and an extraordinarily long word-list. This is why grammar checkers are the least-used part of a word-processor.

So, to return to a point I have made before, there does seem to be scope for a more limited tool which could optionally flag words from pairs which sound the same but have distinct meanings; the most abused is probably principal/principle but others have regular outings. The question in this context is, can anyone suggest a suitable design to do this in such a way that it could be added to any popular word-processor as a macro or whatever, and where the user could add new word-pairs?

Editor: I recall an L/R incident, to which they shall now be referred, many years ago. One Christmas youthful insanity prompted me to drive from my Polytechnic digs in hellish Hatfield (Southern England, on the A1 heading north) to Prague (Czechoslovakia). Stopping briefly in Le Man (France) to collect my equally foolish friend Jonathan. I recall only fragments of my eastern european experience. (Beer, Pilsner Urquell, was two and a half pence a pint.) But, one indelible moment remains. Wenceslas Square, in the centre of the city, is off limits to tourists. This is ensured by a constant military presence. Of course we drive into the square and Jonathan says, 'Whoa, go left', I instinctively turn right, 'Left!' he says, we are now heading straight for the big men with guns standing in the middle of the road, 'LEFT!' he shouts. I'm confused since I think I am heading left, even though I think this is a bad idea. Stern looks and serious weaponry are deployed. Jon grabs the wheel, we miss the tram bearing down on us.

And so, the giddy random direction of my life continues apace. Spelling corrections on a post-card please.

Overload Journal #30 - Feb 1999 + Letters to the Editor