Practical Prosody

Sunday, March 26, 2017 · 2 min read

In a desparate attempt to learn a little more about the brilliant, strange, confusing, mystifying world we all live in, I have spent the past few weeks reading about it. About camelids and Cavendish, about 17th-century piracy and 21st-century photography, about Betsy Ross and clause learning, about metric structure and morse code.

Those last two subjects — metric structure and morse code — were Friday night’s reading, and as I read, I felt that familiar sensation you feel when you notice big ideas intersecting. It’s a tremendously exciting sensation, one that invites you to think just a little harder about each idea, to probe just a little more aggressively at their boundaries, until at last you can dig out the connection from your intuition.

The connection in this case turned out to be simple: many morse code signs correspond to metric feet. “A” or .- is an iamb (“To be or not to be”), “D” or -.. is a dactyl (“Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily”), “U” or ..- is an anapest (“There was once an old man in Peru…”), “M” or -- is a spondee (“Rage, rage”), and so on.

A practical result of this fact is that we can come up with nice metric mnemonics for Morse code, and indeed Wikipedians have already done so. By remembering the syllable stress patterns for such mnemonics, you can remember the dot-and-dash pattern for the associated letter.

The real question, of course, is whether or not we can automate the search for such mnemonics.

Armed with the pronouncing Python library (which feeds off of the CMU Pronouncing Dictionary), I decided to make my own set of Morse code mnemonics. This set is optimized for CS students, and was generated with the assistance of a simple computer program I named versificator. Here it is — enjoy!

Letter Morse Mnemonics
A .- assert
B -... bcrypt hashing
C -.-. computation
CS major
D -.. digital
E . eh?
F ..-. Futamura
G --. GNU emacs
git checkout
H .... hullabaloo
I .. IP
J .--- JS? How sad!
moar jQuery
K -.- kilobyte
L .-.. linguistics course
M -- malware
N -. Nyquist
O --- oh my zsh
output file
P .--. prevent errors
Q --.- QuickTime has crashed
quad-core machine
R .-. recursion
S ... sudoer
T - type
U ..- unsubscribe
V ...- video game
visual mode
W .-- wget it
X -..- LaTeX by Knuth
Xcode is slow
Y -.-- combinator
Z --.. Z3 solver
zip archiver
◊ ◊ ◊