Words & Stuff

JJ: Youse Jivin' Me

(7 September 1998)

In the movie Airplane, a couple of characters converse in Jive, a parody of the overblown black slang featured in the "blaxploitation" movies of the '70s. In 1986, Daniel Klein and Clement Cole created a software filter that would take ordinary text as input and translate it into some approximation of Jive. A variety of other filters followed. These filters are available on many UNIX systems; for those without UNIX systems, a suite of the filters are available on the Web. Just enter your text, select a filter, and read the translation.


Jive was the first of the filters (that I know of), and is still among the best, even if the dialect it produces is dated and somewhat politically sensitive. It performs certain simple substitutions on text: -ing becomes -in'; th becomes d. -er and of often become uh. damn is occasionally inserted between the and the following word. A colon is replaced with dig dis:. Most of these replacements are done without regard to context: the th substitution can occur anywhere in a word (as with breathe becoming breade). Similarly, was is turned into wuz, so wash becomes wuzh.

Despite the simplicity of the transformation, the results can be entertaining. Try reading the GNU manifesto in Jive, for example. Or for those of a more classical bent:

Shall ah' compare dee t'a summer's day?
Dou art mo'e lovely and mo'e tempuh'te, dig dis:
Rough winds do shake da damn darlin' buds uh May,
So long as dudes can breade o' eyes kin see,
So long lives dis and dis gives life t'dee. What it is, Mama!

I particularly like this line from Henry V (from the St. Crispin's day speech):

Dis sto'y shall de baaaad dude teach his son;


A filter that replaces off-color words with formal or clinical alternatives. Very entertaining if you start with a text containing off-color words; does nothing otherwise. Again the replacements are made without regard to context; the word pass, for instance, becomes p[BUTTOCKS].


A fake Cockney accent. This filter makes some nice substitutions (like way to why), and adds occasional mild oaths. Alas, it doesn't use rhyming slang. More from the Crispin's day speech:

Then will 'e strip 'is sleeve 'n' show 'is scars.
And sigh 'These wounds I did on Crispin's day, didn'I?'
We few, we 'appy few, we band of bruvvers;
For 'e to-day that sheds 'is blood wif me
Shall be me bruvver...

Unfortunately, none of the filters here do anything interesting with glottal stops. For instance, gentle should be ge'l in several of these dialects.

New York

Think Rocky. Kinda vaguely Brooklynish. One of my favorite lines from any filter:

Shall I compare dee tuh a summer's day, or what?

And back to Hank Cinq and St. Crispin:

Old men fawhget, like, uhh: yet all shall be fawhgot,
But he'll remembuh wit' advantages
What feats he did dat day, like, uhh: den shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household woids...


BIFF was a fictional teenage Usenetter (even more clueless than most clueless newbies), invented in 1988 by Joe Talmadge. BIFF's postings were all in capital letters, with many exclamation points. Other people joined in on the fun and started posting as BIFF, who soon became B1FF. A brief sample should suffice:



My favorite filter, because it modifies nearly every word. The output is your text as spoken by the Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show; it's about as good a rendition of Chefspeak as I can imagine being done in ASCII. (Ideally the output would contain more umlauts and Scandinavian characters.) My only objection is that this version doesn't seem to insert "bork bork bork" into the text.

Shell I cumpere-a zeee-a tu a soommer's dey?
Thuoo ert mure-a lufely und mure-a temperete-a:
Ruoogh veends du sheke-a zee derleeng boods ooff Mey,
Und soommer's leese-a het ell tuu shurt a dete-a:...


Alastair Thompson once reduced several of us to helpless giggles with his Valley Girl rendition of the prologue to Henry V, beginning with "Oh, for, like, a muse of fire!" in a dead-on Val accent. This filter isn't quite as good, alas. Here's yet another version of the Crispin speech:

Like, ya know, this day is ya know, like, called thuh feast of Crispian:
That dude that outlives this day, like, wow, and comes safe home...

Too bad inflection is so hard to capture in text. Also too bad that this filter never seems to use the word "tubular," an essential component of any Val's or surfer's vocabulary.


Also provided are a handful of other filters which don't make many interesting changes. "Moo" mostly just replaces o and u with oo; "Newspeak" changes very to plus- and makes other changes to specific words (amusing if you happen across them). Australian adds a fake thick Australian accent to your text, with results much like Cockney. Southern is a sort of uneducated Southern accent. Ky00te and Owlspeak appear to be in-jokes (the former relating to FurryMUCK, the latter to Twin Peaks).

There are several interesting points that could be discussed about these filters, such as how dialect is shown in written text, and how better AI algorithms could improve the translation (at the cost of complexity), and how all this relates to machine-translation issues. But all that will have to wait; I'm out of space and out of time for this week.

Most if not all of these filters can be found in the Debian package 'filters' (version 1.7 for Linux and maybe other UNIX systems).

Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>