So I have this cell phone that lets me type in reminders and messages and the like, but with the 12-key phone keypad – an immediate problem for anyone who uses a 26-letter alphabet – and it’s got some ‘predictive text’ system that’s supposed to help but that never works so I quickly (and with some annoyance) went into the menu and found a way to turn ‘predictive text OFF.’

I did this because I am an idiot. It turns out that if I had been just a tiny bit more patient (or if I had read the manual), I would have seen how miraculous this really is. With predictive text ON, you just type the whole word without concern for the fact that, at first, it seems to be guessing wrong. Say you want to type AMERICA. You press the 2 key (abc) and it displays A. So far, so good. You then press the 6 key (mno) and is displays N. No! No! You wanted M! And even if you think to then press the 3 key (def) – although why would you, when it’s already gone off course? – it displays D. So now it reads AND where you would have wanted it to read AME . . . you are never going to get to AMERICA at this rate, you might just as well have headed for ANDYVILLE . . . so you quit in disgust, switch ‘predictive text OFF,’ and crawl back to your Neanderthal cave.

Now comes a house guest who explains that you need only keep typing the word you want, and predictive text will generally figure it out by the time you get to the end. If I had just kept typing, by the time I looked up from the keypad to the display, I would have seen: AMERICA.

And there’s more! When it does guess the wrong word, you just hit the STAR key and it pops up what it considers the next best alternative, which is usually the one you want. Or else press star again. If you are trying to type, say, Kozlowski, it’s not going to guess that, so gives you the ‘spell’ option for that one word, where you use the slow-old method (press the 2 key once for A, twice for B, three times for C).

‘It’s not new, you know,’ laughs my house guest. ‘Every six year old in Europe has been doing this for years.’

Over time, he says (long before you’re seven), you don’t even look at the keys any more. Your brain just knows which key to press for an M N or O.

(Play around with the # key also, when you’re about to enter text. Depending on your phone, it will probably toggle on or off predictive text mode, and/or switch between ‘Sentence’ mode, where the first word starts with a capital letter and text mode where it does not.)


Last week, the Senate voted to authorize the Army to add 20,000 new soldiers. Meanwhile, over the last five years, 9,682 soldiers serving in 161 different occupational specialties have been discharged for being gay or lesbian, including 88 linguists and 49 nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare specialists. For details, click here.


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