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23 July 1998 Edition

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Name-dropping

By Eoghan MacCormaic

You know what I miss about the good old days? I miss the way journalists used to pronounce Irish place names. Crossmaglen, or Maghera seemed impossible to graduates of the BeBeCe school of English.

It has taken years of local experience for them to get their tongues round our townlands. And it wasn't only place names which puzzled the English speaking and English thinking press. The names of politicians were often equally baffling. Of course, over time and after a few sniggers the journalists grew wise and crafty and began asking the owner of the allegedly bewildering handle to help and then read the news using whatever shorthand or phonetics they were happy with.

A different kettle of fish, however, is the printed word. Uncustomary and unusual names are always prone to spelling mistakes. Normally the computer is a great man for assistance in the spelling department of course, a great man indeed. Most computer programmes have a built-in spellcheck, but a major drawback is that it alerts the author to recognised spelling mistakes of words it knows but doesn't make much sense out of names it doesn't know. Instead of wisdom, the computer guesses. And for those who think that computers lack a sense of humour try this for size.

Take our good friend Bob McCartney. When the spellcheck meets his name it suggests as an obvious replacement carotine; an orange substance found among vegetables. Hmm. It then suggests `cartoon'. Ah, sure Bob is only a caricature of himself in any case.

More august and regal than any cartoon is the offering for Ervine. Ermine, hints the computer. A seat in the House Of Lords surely beckons, David.

Another David whose surname confuses the spell check is Trimble. David is either triable - which I'm sure many people feel appropriate - all a tremble, or maybe a thimble. A political Tom Thumb it seems.

And it isn't only Unionist names which confuse the computer. John Hume is either John Fume or John Hump, perhaps a sign that from time to time he does indeed takes the hump, who knows. The computer would also `correct' his name to hue, though what hue is unstated. My favourite, for many reasons, is John Ham. Who says the great man isn't an actor at heart?

John's best friend and Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon is a siamese melon according to the spell check, which knows better than us how close Mallon is to that other melon, Trimble. Mallon's surname also comes up as mellow and million. One in a million, obviously.

Moving south, Bertie is often considered a mellow sort too, but among the micro chips his name is confused with bearish, and boorish. Never, never. Ahern is exchangeable with Aryan or more ominously with arraign. Can the computer foresee his day in court? If Mary Harney is viewed as an appendage of Bertie, PDs should take heart that Harney is also a misspelling of heroin and hernia, so perhaps a political rupture is imminent.

The alternatives to the coalition pose their own difficulties. John Bruton's surname is offered as Britain, Briton or Brittania. Who said computers can't think? De Rossa comes up as duress or diarrhoea, while RuairĂ­ (Quinn) is both rare and rewired. Of course there's always the sanctuary of retirement, a la CJH. Haughey comes up as haughty, and some would say there's nothing new about that. The alternative might be more appropriate, however, for a recluse who loves his island sanctuary. The computer gives Hawaii for Haughey. Now wouldn't that really be something for yourself, big fella.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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