Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Next Feature for MS-Word: Idiom-Checking

It isn't until you start paying attention that you realize just how prevalent idioms are in ordinary professional writing. There are innumerable sports metaphors and analogies, of course. The one that inspired me to write this post was "motherhood and apple pie".
Anyway, I think a really useful, fairly easy and obvious feature for MS-Word would be an idiom-checker. It would cut two ways. First, it would call attention to one's perhaps unthinking use of idioms that are well-known to native speakers, but not to ESLers. Second, it would offer convenient, in-line flagging and translation of said idioms, for the benefit of said ESLers.
(using "said" in this way is a bit idiomatic, isn't it? That would be a harder one for the idiom checker...)

I actually think this could be done really well. In many ways, it seems easier than a grammar-checker. I can see how it could leverage, on an opt-in basis, multiple wiki-style references (somewhat like Urban Dictionary).

For bonus points, maybe eventually--just as grammar-checkers tell you the reading level of your writing--the idiom checker could grade it in different ways. Idiom density, idiom topicality (based on a graph of the age of the citations of the idioms in an internet crawl), and obviously the sky is the limit, depending on how good the tagging is (e.g., "North American English", "all native English", "sports", etc).

This would also make a great open source project. Both for the code--hopefully a plug-in that any text editor could adopt (e.g. Fargo), and for the source content (wiki-style, like Urban Dictionary).

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