Poetic license

Only just seen The Spellchecker’s Guide to Poetry, a poem by John Fuller which appeared in the Times Lit Sup for April 13 (subscribers only)

The poem plays vapidly on replacing (as if generated by an automatic spellchecker) the nomini classici of the English poetic tradition with the orthographically nearest common nouns. Here are a couple of extracts:

…good old Geoffrey Chancre

His Trolls and Crusade is a work that ought to be read


“Like Marline’s spectacular Doctor Fasts

Where a don turns into a voluptuary,

Or the one where the King fatally takes a shine

To Gravestone, or we see the ridiculous ambitions of Timberline.”

Trouble is, unless the original orthography was way off, the de facto standard MS Word spell checker (for both UK and US locales) will in fact correctly scan Marlowe, Faust if not Faustus, as well as Chaucer, Troilus and Cressida, though not Tamerlane/Tamburlaine or Gaveston. And anyway you can add any proper, nonce or other string into your checker’s list, making it much err fuller. Yes, Fuller is in too. Maybe he still uses a 1982 WordStar word processor kitted out with SpellStar.

Andrew Joscelyne
European, a language technology industry watcher since Electric Word was first published, sometime journalist, consultant, market analyst and animateur of projects. Interested in technologies for augmenting human intellectual endeavour, multilingual méssage, the history of language machines, the future of translation, and the life of the digital mindset.


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