Work the Shell - More Fun with Word and Letter Counts

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Determine the frequency of letters within a document (and become unbeatable at Hangman).
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Dave Taylor has been hacking shell scripts for over thirty years. Really. He's the author of the popular "Wicked Cool Shell Scripts" and can be found on Twitter as @DaveTaylor and more generally at www.DaveTaylorOnline.com.

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Letter frequency

opie's picture

Samuel Morse would have loved your article, as I did. In devising Morse code, he assigned the briefest codes to the most frequently used letters. Lacking your routine and access to /usr/share/dict/words, he based his count on the number of letters in sets of printers' type, according to AskOxford.com (http://www.askoxford.com/asktheexperts/faq/aboutwords/frequency). The figures he came up with for the most common letters were:

12,000 E
9,000 T
8,000 A, I, N, O, S

In contrast, Zs occupied the least letter space in typesetters' cabinets, with only 200 on hand.

As a result, E and T in Morse code require single key presses, one short and the other long (dot and dash, respectively). Other letters may require four key presses, combining dots and/or dashes. Optimization makes a difference; even so sending 5 words per minute in Morse code is a challenge for the novice; 20 words per minute the mark of a pro!

AskOxford.com poses some interesting questions that shell scripters could have fun with. For example,

Are there any English words containing the same letter three times in a row?

Are there any words in the English language that use all five vowels with no intervening consonants or have the five vowels in the right order?

Too easy? Try: What is the longest one-syllable English word?

I remember before you could look virtually everything up on the Internet, being surprised how difficult it was to code a routine for breaking words into syllables. Not because the coding itself was hard but because detailing the underlying rules was such a challenge.

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