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Curiouser and curiouser: Strange Women and Microsoft - Impressions and Expressions of Ijon
October 7th, 2003
12:23 pm

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Curiouser and curiouser: Strange Women and Microsoft
This morning, I got a phone call from an unidentified number. A woman confessed that she has read my little page explaining how to put Hebrew diacritics (nikkud) into documents in Windows. That page includes my phone number, as it is primarily meant for Project Ben-Yehuda volunteers who need the information and may require my help. Over time, this page generated quite a few phone calls from people unrelated to the BY project, as it has become a rather popular resource about diacritics in Word. More on this later.

Anyhow, the woman did not want technical help with inserting diacritics, but with figuring out the proper diacritics for a phrase she wanted to diacriticize. The phrase was מספרת ילדים ונוער, Hebrew for "Children and Youth Hair Salon". It took me a moment to realize that what she's asking me to do is provide her with the actual correct diacritics, but that was indeed what she wanted. She did not bother to introduce herself, by the way. Understand (ye non-Hebrew readers), some diacritics in modern Hebrew are redundant (i.e. denote the same sound), and although there are certainly broad guidelines, many many anomalies and special cases exist, and it takes a real grammar expert to properly diacriticize anything that's put in front of him. I'm far from a grammar expert, certainly as far as diacritics are concerned. Nevertheless, I did know how to diacriticize this particular phrase, so I dictated it to her: "מ"ם חרוקה, סמ"ך בשווא, פ"א דגושה וקמוצה" etc.

That was weird. After writing it all down, she hesitated for half a moment, and then asked: "So, are you a Hebrew grammar teacher?" (she actually used the feminine form of teacher, despite my pre-morning-coffee profundo voice, presumably because in most Israelis' minds [and experience], most teachers are women, and grammar teachers are somehow always envisioned as women). I chuckled and said I'm far from it. "How, then, do you know diacritics so well?" she inquired. I replied that I don't, actually, and that I'm surprised she chose to call me (hint, hint), but that I try to help when I can, and in this particular instance, I could. She explained that she figured I'd either know myself or know whom to refer her to. Then she thanked me, and I was left to make my morning coffee.

Weird.

The promised (much older) anecdote about the diacritics page's popularity is this: one day, this guy A. calls me up full of excitement about the BY project. Among other things, he says: "You would never believe how I found the project!" Now, people tell me all kinds of interesting tales on how word of mouth about the project reached them, but this was special: it turns out that A. called Microsoft Israel for support for Word, because he wanted to add diacritics to a Yiddish text he was editing, and didn't know how to do it.

Diacritics are probably the worst-documented feature in Windows. Technically, it's not a Word feature at all, but a Windows feature: you can add diacritics in Notepad as well. Practically, people don't try to add diacritics in Notepad; on the rare occasions they want diacritics, they want them in Word. Word should have included a prominent help page explaining this. It either doesn't, or too few people RTFM.

Be that as it may, the Microsoft Customer Service Representative kindly referred A. to my humble page. Is that ridiculous or what? Both Windows and Word are their products, this guy is their client, he calls for support: you would expect that they would either tell him to read the fine manual, or give him the information he needs directly. But instead, the CSR dictated a URL to A., and so A. found out about the project.

I am quite amused, to this day, that Microsoft could not be bothered to create a better Web page explaining this than mine, which was created in two-minutes and declares that fact openly in its title. Funny old world.

Current Mood: morning
Current Music: lawnmower below

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[User Picture]
From:khatul
Date:October 7th, 2003 03:50 am (UTC)

?פ"א דגושה וקמוצה

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Are you sure it's not פ"א דגושה וסגולה? Cf. מֶמְשֶׁלֶת הוד מלכותו. I would consequently vote for מִסְפֶּרֶת ילדים ונוער, though our average compatriot won't probably pronounce it that way.
[User Picture]
From:ijon
Date:October 7th, 2003 05:28 am (UTC)

Re: ?פ"א דגושה וקמוצה

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Oh, you're probably right about the proper form of "smixut" (association? What's the English term?), but she said "misparat", as do most of us, and I just responded to that, not checking the grammar. I wonder if, had I thought of the correct form and told her, she would have used that form instead.

The more I think of it, the guiltier I feel. She probably wanted this for some sort of banner or improvised awning, and I'm all for correct Hebrew on signs etc., even if the word is commonly pronounced in a different "mishkal" (damn, I really need to figure out the English counterparts for these Hebrew grammar terms) than the correct one.
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From:kritzit
Date:October 7th, 2003 04:43 am (UTC)

Ach, my brother

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You are such a good soul.
I would have referred her to the academy...
[User Picture]
From:ijon
Date:October 7th, 2003 05:32 am (UTC)

Re: Ach, my brother

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You're right, I should have done just that. The Academy of the Hebrew Language actually runs a "hotline" giving language advice and help to callers, free of charge. I should have that number handy.

Better yet, I should add a line to that diacritics page for people who sought "ניקוד" on Google and got there, explaining where to get help in figuring out correct diacritics.
From:raisinlike
Date:October 7th, 2003 05:27 am (UTC)

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Well, having worked at the Word support center (that is, Microsoft Israel's helpdesk employed by Kalanit Carmon) as a student I can tell you that unless they changed their policy in the years past (damn, it was back in '97!) they only provide troubleshooting advice. Never have I provided "how to" advice while working there. I even remember not helping someone who called with this exact same question (nowbody there even knew how to do it anyway) - I just gave him a little tip I remembered from my army service and gave him some references to look at from "מוחי הקודח". I suppose that is also what the support representative you are talking about did, give an informl advice. Probably, one of your fans.
[User Picture]
From:ijon
Date:October 7th, 2003 05:33 am (UTC)
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Didn't you/they at least direct the customer to the product documentation? Surely, it's documented somewhere...

My fans?
[User Picture]
From:passacaglio
Date:October 7th, 2003 09:49 am (UTC)

Still, a weird conclusion

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I never had a grammer teacher named "Asaf" (nor would have believe there could be one).

Also, Yiddish doesn't use diactrics at all, so that's weird as well.
[User Picture]
From:passacaglio
Date:October 7th, 2003 09:50 am (UTC)

Re: Still, a weird conclusion

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Female grammar teacher, of course..
[User Picture]
From:ijon
Date:October 7th, 2003 10:35 am (UTC)

Re: Still, a weird conclusion

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Yiddish does too use diacritics, to distinguish between A and O sounds (both written with Aleph), and to distinguish between Pe and Fe, Kaf and Xaf, as Hebrew does. I remind you of this, for instance:

[User Picture]
From:icanreadyourmnd
Date:October 7th, 2003 10:59 pm (UTC)

excuse me ....

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I don't know who the fuck you are but nobody ASKED you to go over to a friends' LJ and pretend to be them and hack their journal.

but if you fuck with us or her any more, I will have you reported to the LJ authorities and have you removed.

and don't think it can't be done; it can be.

don't butt in where you weren't asked.


[User Picture]
From:ijon
Date:October 7th, 2003 11:05 pm (UTC)

Re: excuse me ....

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Um, excuse ME, but I have no idea what you're talking about. I don't think I know either you or your friends, and have certainly not impersonated anyone, in LJ or outside it.

Are you sure you've got the right person? If you are, please present your facts. If you're not, an apology would be nice.
[User Picture]
From:wildernesscat
Date:October 8th, 2003 12:12 am (UTC)

self reference

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This entry gave me an idea and reminded me of a related story.

Idea: Why don't you make up a page that summarizes the rules of placing diacritics in Hebrew? I could really use one. (I know only a few rules - "סגורה לא מותאמת קטנה", "פתוחה גדולה", "בגד כפת" and that's about it).

Story: When I was in the IDF, I was among the last few people in Israel (!) who knew their way around the PDP-11/RSX11-M systems. I was mostly self-sufficient in running my PDP machines, but occasionally I needed to call Digital for a little advice. At some point, Digital were so understaffed in the PDP department that the following conversation took place:
- Hello, I would like to get support for RSX-11M.
- Hmmm... the man who knows those systems is abroad right now...
- Oh.. do you have anyone else?
- Wait, you're calling from the IDF, right?
- Yeah...
- There's this guy who can help you. His name is Danny Dorfman. He's in the Air Force.
- Ahemmm... I already consulted him and he doesn't know the answer.
[User Picture]
From:wildernesscat
Date:October 8th, 2003 12:14 am (UTC)

silly me

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Ooops... מוטעמת, of course.
From:raisinlike
Date:October 8th, 2003 01:59 pm (UTC)
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From:ex_ilyavinar899
Date:December 16th, 2003 04:03 pm (UTC)
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I worked on Microsoft Office in the 1995-2000 cycles (1994-1998), and I once loaded a Web page in Yiddish into (the debug build of) Word for fun. A lot of asserts popped up at once because the Yiddish text had a lot of diacritics (Yiddish uses an aleph with a patakh for 'a' and an aleph with a kamats for 'o'), and the line layout dll was completely untested in this area. Hopefully they're better now.
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