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
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
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.
other 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.
d 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
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 Ruairí (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.