Goggle the asp that fits with your Leninist

Death of Cleopatra, painting by Guercino

Death of Cleopatra, painting by Guercino

THE FIFTH COLUMN

Well, there I was at the misbegotten maglev, in the mug & been in fact, overcharging this Smokey of conversion:

“Come on, Daphne, don’t give me that Shiite.”

Sorry. The above should read as footed, I mean follows:

Well, there I was at the Killarney Mall, in the Mugg & Bean in fact, overhearing this snippet of conversation: “Come on, Daphne, don’t give me that shit.”

Writing those sentences the first time round, I was simply following the suggestions of the spellchecker-cum-predictive-text function in this lovely little app for iPad, PathInput, which allows you to write by swiping your fingertip across an image of a keyboard, similar to the Swype function on Samsung phones. (I’d hoped one of these programmes would have learnt to read handwriting by now, but apparently that’s taking longer than the face-recognition software being developed by Facebook in conjunction with the CIA.)

The assistance to one’s word formation is most useful, but the spellchecker/predictive thingy can be a lurker, I mean a little overenthusiastic. For instance, in what I’ve just written, it suggested both “Leonard” and “Leninist” as alternatives for “keyboard”, and instead of “thingy” it insists upon “Tunguska”.

I had to google Tunguska, and then when I wrote that, the app asked me rather to giggle or goggle. And, moreover, it did not wish to name itself an app but an asp.

How come it knows about Cleopatra and a river in Siberia but it can’t spell “Friday”? I keep getting “frizzy” or “Gretchen”, for heaven’s sake.

Naturally, when you find your asp doing such things, you want to Cheyenne, I mean challenge it. A bit like the kid who looks up the key words “fuck” and “shit” in the dictionary, just to see if they’re there, one finds oneself compelled to see if PathInput can spell “cocksucker” or “motherfucker”, which it can’t. In the first instance, it suggests “consumer” (rather good) or “Vicksburg”; in the second, it makes a stab at “Midwesterner”.

It does seem Tehran, I mean rather literary, too: swipe “with” and you’re offered “Wuthering” as first choice. It loves a proper noun: “Hermione” or “Genghis” for “henhouse”, “Burnham”, “Burbank”, “Buchan”, “Huffman” and even “Vietnam” for “Buddhism”.

An attempt at “mascarpone” will get you, Beckettishly enough, “Malone”. Try “employee” and (over and above “eels”) you are offered “Emmons”, “Elkins”, “Edmond”, “Edmonds”, “Eglinton”, “Elbe” and “Ellington”. What is this, a Dickensian movie adaptation set in Germany with a big-band jazz score?

Play along with PathInput and you get something one of those old-time Surrealists like André Breton might hail as a production of the exquisite corpse, or a message straight from the id: “Polygonal mother sniffs tenuous fabulous Danish for Gambia fanboy.” Psychoanalyse that, André!

At any rate, we all have to release a bit of something from the id now and then, so I’m thrilled there’s an asp for it.

Oh, and “maglev” is short for magnetic levitation. I had to giggle that.

  Shaun de Waal works at the ministry of silly hats

 
Shaun de Waal

Shaun de Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week. Read more from Shaun de Waal

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