Style & Diction

While looking at some old picture of a 3B2, I remembered in college we used to use this ‘fine’ system for it’s Writer’s Workbench which revolved around the programs style & diction.

I thought it’d be interesting to see if I could track down the source, however the sources seem to have been part of the AT&T DWB package, and were not included in any of the seemingly numerous available Unix sources available on TUHS.  But thanks to this post on the TUHS mailing list, I saw this:

I know about style and diction which was shipped with BSD4.1
which (again wooly memory) was an early subset of the
whole wwb package.

Going with this, I pulled out the recently unearthed images on bitsavers of 4.1_BSD_19810710, and in the tape images sure was the source!  The only date in there is from 1979!

Deroff Version 2.0    29 December 1979

Which for a 1981 tape sure would be in the same light.  So with some fun playing with the makefiles, I had it running on Debian 8 x64!  So with a little bit of kicking I have it running on Windows via MinGW.

So for a fun example, I though I’d take Bill Gate’s forward on Inside OS/2:


      OS/2 is destined to be a very important piece of software. During the
 next 10 years, millions of programmers and users will utilize this system.
 From time to time they will come across a feature or a limitation and
 wonder why it's there. The best way for them to understand the overall
 philosophy of the system will be to read this book. Gordon Letwin is
 Microsoft's architect for OS/2. In his very clear and sometimes humorous
 way, Gordon has laid out in this book why he included what he did and why
 he didn't include other things.
      The very first generation of microcomputers were 8-bit machines, such
 as the Commodore Pet, the TRS-80, the Apple II, and the CPM 80 based
 machines. Built into almost all of them was Microsoft's BASIC Interpreter.
 I met Gordon Letwin when I went to visit Heath's personal computer group
 (now part of Zenith). Gordon had written his own BASIC as well as an
 operating system for the Heath system, and he wasn't too happy that his
 management was considering buying someone else's. In a group of about 15
 people, he bluntly pointed out the limitations of my BASIC versus his.
 After Heath licensed my BASIC, I convinced Gordon that Microsoft was the
 place to be if you wanted your great software to be popular, and so he
 became one of Microsoft's first 10 programmers. His first project was to
 single-handedly write a compiler for Microsoft BASIC. He put a sign on his
 door that read

         Do not disturb, feed, poke, tease...the animal

 and in 5 months wrote a superb compiler that is still the basis for all our
 BASIC compilers. Unlike the code that a lot of superstar programmers write,
 Gordon's source code is a model of readability and includes precise
 explanations of algorithms and why they were chosen.
      When the Intel 80286 came along, with its protected mode completely
 separate from its compatible real mode, we had no idea how we were going to
 get at its new capabilities. In fact, we had given up until Gordon came up
 with the patented idea described in this book that has been referred to as
 "turning the car off and on at 60 MPH." When we first explained the idea to
 Intel and many of its customers, they were sure it wouldn't work. Even
 Gordon wasn't positive it would work until he wrote some test programs that
 proved it did.
      Gordon's role as an operating systems architect is to overview our
 designs and approaches and make sure they are as simple and as elegant as
 possible. Part of this job includes reviewing people's code. Most
 programmers enjoy having Gordon look over their code and point out how it
 could be improved and simplified. A lot of programs end up about half as
 big after Gordon has explained a better way to write them. Gordon doesn't
 mince words, however, so in at least one case a particularly sensitive
 programmer burst into tears after reading his commentary. Gordon isn't
 content to just look over other people's code. When a particular project
 looks very difficult, he dives in. Currently, Gordon has decided to
 personally write most of our new file system, which will be dramatically
 faster than our present one. On a recent "vacation" he wrote more than 50
 pages of source code.
      This is Gordon's debut as a book author, and like any good designer he
 has already imagined what bad reviews might say. I think this book is both
 fun and important. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

First we run it through style which will give the overall report on the text.

D:\diction\bin>style.cmd forward.txt
readability grades:
        (Kincaid)  9.1  (auto)  9.2  (Coleman-Liau)  8.8  (Flesch)  8.5 (64.8)
sentence info:
        no. sent 31 no. wds 607
        av sent leng 19.6 av word leng 4.43
        no. questions 0 no. imperatives 0
        no. nonfunc wds 338  55.7%   av leng 5.58
        short sent (<15) 35% (11) long sent (>30)  13% (4)
        longest sent 35 wds at sent 14; shortest sent 7 wds at sent 5
sentence types:
        simple  39% (12) complex  32% (10)
        compound   3% (1) compound-complex  26% (8)
word usage:
        verb types as % of total verbs
        tobe  33% (26) aux  22% (17) inf  13% (10)
        passives as % of non-inf verbs   6% (4)
        types as % of total
        prep 8.6% (52) conj 4.1% (25) adv 7.1% (43)
        noun 23.9% (145) adj 14.7% (89) pron 8.4% (51)
        nominalizations   0 % (3)
sentence beginnings:
        subject opener: noun (6) pron (5) pos (2) adj (3) art (3) tot  61%
        prep  19% (6) adv   6% (2)
        verb   0% (0)  sub_conj  13% (4) conj   0% (0)
        expletives   0% (0)

So that places it on the grade 9 level, average readability.

Now let’s see about usage errors with diction!

D:\diction\bin>diction forward.txt
      os 2 is destined to be a[ very ]important piece of software.

 during the  next 10 years  millions of programmers and users will[ utilize]
 this system.

 the best way for them to understand the[ overall ] philosophy of the system
 will be to read this book.

 in his[ very ]clear and sometimes humorous  way  gordon has laid out in this
 book why he included what he did and why  he didn t include other things.

       the[ very ]first generation of microcomputers were 8 bit machines
 such  as the commodore pet  the trs 80  the apple ii  and the cpm 80 based

 built into almost[ all of ]them was microsoft s basic interpreter.

 unlike the code that[ a lot of ]superstar programmers write   gordon s source
 code is a model of readability and includes precise  explanations of algorithms
 and why they were chosen.

[ in fact ] we had given up until gordon came up  with the patented idea described
 in this book that has been referred to as   turning the car off and on at
 60 mph.

[ a lot of ]programs[ end up ]about half as  big after gordon has explained
 a better way to write them.

 when a particular project  looks[ very ]difficult  he dives in.

number of sentences 34 number of hits 11

As you can see, Bill likes very, very much.

Explain can give you examples of what to use instead, so how about ‘a lot of’?

D:\diction\bin>bash explain
a lot of
use "many" for "a lot of"

Explain is a sed script, so in this case I’m using MinGW’s MSYS environment to run the script.

I don’t think much of anyone will care about text processing utilities from the 1970’s in 2016 (and beyond) but for anyone else who is bored, or found out about this by mistake, here you go!


You’ll get a 404 page, just read the error page for the password.

7 thoughts on “Style & Diction

    • Very strange. Ubuntu is Debian, and I was able to build there OK.. then again I did ‘fix’ this makefile for building on Windows. I’ll have to try to re-build on Debian, I know I ‘fixed’ the dictionaries to sit in the current directory.

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