[TUHS] Spell - was tmac: Move macro diagnostics away from `quotes'

Doug McIlroy doug at cs.dartmouth.edu
Thu Nov 23 11:05:23 AEST 2017


Repeat, slightly modified, of a previous post that got
shunted to the attachment heap.

>   I am curious if anyone on the list remembers much
> about the development of the first spell checkers in Unix?

Yes, intimately. They had no relationship to the PDP 10.

The first one was a fantastic tour de force by Bob Morris,
called "typo". Aside from the file "eign" of the very most common
English words, it had no vocabulary. Instead it evaluated the
likelihood that any particular word came from a source with the
same letter-trigram frequencies as the document as a whole. The
words were then printed in increasing order of likelihood. Typos
tended to come early in the list.

Typo, introduced in v3, was very popular until Steve Johnson wrote
"spell", a remarkably short shell script that (efficiently) looks
up a document's words in the wordlist of Webster's Collegiate
Dictionary, which we had on line. The only "real" coding he did
was to write a simple affix-stripping program to make it possible
to look up plurals, past tenses, etc. If memory serves, Steve's
program is described in Kernighan and Pike. It appeared in v5.

Steve's program was good, but the dictionary isn't an ideal source
for real text, which abounds in proper names and terms of art.
It also has a lot of rare words that don't pull their weight in
a spell checker, and some attractive nuisances, especially obscure
short words from Scots, botany, etc, which are more likely to
arise in everyday text as typos than by intent. Given the basic
success of Steve's program, I undertook to make a more useful
spelling list, along with more vigorous affix stripping (and a
stop list to avert associated traps, e.g. "presenation" =
pre+senate+ion"). That has been described in Bentley's "Programming
Pearls" and in http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/~doug/spell.pdf.

Morris's program and mine labored under space constraints, so
have some pretty ingenious coding tricks. In fact Morris has
a patent on the way he counted frequencies of the 26^3 trigrams
in 26^3 bytes, even though the counts could exceed 255. I did
some heroic (and probabilistic) encoding to squeeze a 30,000
word dictionary into a 64K data space, without severely 
affecting lookup time.

Doug


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