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Spelling checkers are an invention of the devil – they make people lazy and they’re dangerous, because they don’t pick up sentences that go nowhere or typos that create recognised but unintended words. As for style checkers, what writer worth his salt is going to take seriously criticism of his writing style from some nerd of a programmer? It will be a very long time, for example, before a style-checking program can recognise that a series of repeated phrases are being used for ironic effect. There is however one feature of planned European writing aid that may well prove to be of some use – a pop-up bilingual dictionary. The program is being designed by three continental companies and has won funding from the 18-nation Eureka high-technology research programme. The end result is intended to be an intelligent software package which will meet the needs of writers, translators and secretaries who use a personal computer. The initial grant amounts to some $900,000, and the project is rather obscurely called Mobidick. The beneficiaries of the funding are van Dale Lexicografie, the largest dictionary publisher in Holland; Le Robert, a French dictionary publisher and ALP Systems SA, specialising in interactive-automatic translation software packages. The proposed program is a writing tool that its proponents hope will herald the next generation of word processor tools, following on from the current array of spelling checkers. The program is being designed to provide pop-up window access to multiple monolingual and bilingual dictionaries, as well as the use of the writing tools such as a grammar checker, style checker, usage checker and punctuation checker. And despite our strictures on style checkers, it has to be said that many of the releases that go out on the Business Wire electronic delivery system in the US are sorely in need of a pedant to check their style.

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