Maggie Wilson Author

Historical Non-Fiction in Northern Ontario

Eating My Words

I’m back!

Have you tried speech-to-text or voice-typing software?

Of course, you have. Me? As usual, I’m late to join the trend. But I’ve found a great use for the app.

Last summer, I overheard someone dictating an email into her phone. She spoke out loud the commands for punctuation and paragraph formatting and all that, and I thought – huh. So that’s a thing, is it?

A few weeks later, while using my tablet, I opened an email pertaining to an ongoing and frustrating issue. I was peeved and ranted to Reiner.

My mini-tantrum included hand gestures and I waved the tablet about.

Rant over, I returned to the tablet to close the email. But what’s this? On the screen I found a long, rambling, word-for-word account of my entire tirade!

What I hadn’t realized was that I had accidentally hit “reply”. Not only that, I had hit the little microphone icon!

You can imagine that I breathed a great sigh of relief that I hadn’t accidentally hit the “send” button, too!

That was my first adventure with speech-to-text software.

Last week an author observed how her diction had improved while dictating her novel for an audio-book. The conversation turned to favourite apps, and that’s how I stumbled upon speechnotes.

The freeware is a godsend for transcribing a collection of 100-year-old letters that were donated to the Cobalt Historical Society.  Since the letters are in their original envelopes, the pages are permanently creased and do not lie flat. These artifacts must be handled as little as possible, with great care, and with gloved hands.

But I don’t have enough hands to hold the documents open and type at the same time. That’s where the speech-to-text program is incredibly helpful.

The output, of course, requires fine tuning to correct errors. Some are caused by my poor diction. I am learning to enunciate and to dictate slowly.

The illegible handwriting and florid speech make for some bizarre translations, too. One letter written by a lawyer contains legal jargon, in Latin, and a biblical quotation for good measure!

You can imagine what the software had to say about this paragraph where the writer instructs his law partner to keep the story to himself:

Friend of mine of former days arrived here on Friday via North Bay Redwater and Ben Palmer’s sleigh. He is a shoemaker of nomadic propensities – much addicted to the habit of praying in public places and preaching in Baptist churches and Country School houses. He arrived half frozen in a normal condition of bankruptcy and brought nothing in with him but his nerve. He struck a job immediately upon his arrival for which I am truly and indecipherable droontly [?] thankful. However, this is tab rosa [?] “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon…”

It occurred to me last night, though, as I transcribed another of the lawyer’s letters, that binge noshing on licorice allsorts at the same time was probably not a good idea.

Especially since I am greatly annoyed by folks who talk and eat at the same time!

Categories: writing

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60 replies

  1. Oh, Maggie–that paragraph. I think back to my secretary days: “Take a letter” Imaging this in the steno pad?! 🙂 Talking and eating….I work with a gal who keeps her elbows on the table, chews with her mouth open and jabs you with her fork as she speaks. Multitasker? I tell my coworkers: “Don’t sit across the table from her. Sit next to her.” Oh, God–the breathing….! Have a good one, Maggie. I gotta go eat breakfast. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Never tried speech to text but found out some members of my family do – and I used to wonder how I got lengthy text message responses from them so quickly! Something I will play around with in retirement, I think…


    Liked by 2 people

  3. I just spit my coffee all over my keyboard. I haven’t tried the software yet either, but maybe I will just to amuse myself. Thanks for the giggle!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. i remember when that type of software came out and you had to calibrate it by saying some stock words. I could just about get it to work but Alison kept shouting louder and louder at it. “I’m sorry I didn’t get that” came the whining reply each time.😁😁😁

    Liked by 1 person

    • My husband and I sit about 10 feet from one another when we are both at our computers – when I sit down to transcribe, I’ve learned to give him a heads up that I’m about to dictate – otherwise, I get a print out of our back and forth:

      What? I’m dictating. Huh? Dictating! On the computer. On the what?

      etc etc


  5. That sounds like a great find in your case Maggie, but I can see the problems overall depending upon what it is your’re reading or saying.
    Knowing the way I speak, and ramble on at times, I can imagine some very interesting results!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I use it quite often for texting because that little phone keyboard and my fingers have conflicts. Interesting sometimes what the software hears – a good reminder of how garbled I must sound sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you!!! I have just wondered how I could handle my MILs video interview! Perfect!
    Of course, Siri doesn’t understand me a lot of the time. I have a Michigan drawl.

  8. Speech to text software doesn’t seem to like me. I use it for sending text massages but if they get complicated, they’re rarely accurate. I tried to write an inventory program in the 90s (early days of speech to text) so a store owner could scan a bar code and say the quantity. It actually worked, but it meant pushing a cart around the store and recharging often. Last, I had a coworker who ate and slurped coffee while on conference calls. Nuff said

    Liked by 1 person

    • I cannot imagine the assorted variables that are involved in designing this sort of technology – obviously, more improvements are required.

      When we visited our kids, they had one of those Google home contraptions that you command it to turn on all the lights, or music or whatever. Emphasis on “command.” That’s the part that tripped me up – I always wanted to say “please” and the software never responded to that.

      Re: the other – nuff said, indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • A lot of people complained to Amazon about the fact that Alexa didn’t respond properly to polite communication. They were worried that the device was setting a bad example for their children. I don’t have one (never will) but I understand that Amazon was going to make changes to recognize those responses.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I have never tried speech to text, but I imagine that it really could come in handy… I just hope I remember that the technology exists when the situation arises. I really loved that paragraph you shared. Although it wasn’t 100% understandable, it really highlighted how beautifully some people wrote back then. It reminded me a bit of the old letters read aloud in the Ken Burn’s documentary The Civil War. “He arrived half frozen in a normal condition of bankruptcy and brought nothing in with him but his nerve” made my heart sing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t the writing delightful? A local historian told me this,”While he was reportedly a good lawyer, his true talent was the gift of the gab. He could stand in a room full of people and mesmerize them with an impassioned speech on virtually any subject.”

      Now that I tell you that, I wonder if he wasn’t projecting a bit when he described his “friend of former days.”

      Either way, the fellow is an intriguing character and as I read his letters, naturally, I’m getting to know him better. It’s too soon to say, but there might be a story here…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. You are bloody brilliant !

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Yes but binging on licorice all sorts is an absolute necessity!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. WP glitched our in me as I started this comment and swear I didn’t say a thing!

    Well, this is a brilliant post. I’ve used the voice to test for text messages, but usually get frustrated. Once I tried doing it with a Word document, but found it didn’t work very well. It really would be great to transcribe old letters that way – you’ve got me intrigued.

    I suspect when you’ve finished this guy’s letters that at least one story will be itching at you! I can’t read old personal correspondence without coming up with ideas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Eilene – I hope you can find a use for it.

      Your suspicions are spot on – at least one story is brewing already, and likely several more. I know exactly what you mean about reading old letters – a single random mention of a business name, or an acquaintance and I’m off down another rabbit hole for hours. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I probably laughed more than was seemly at the mental image of you ranting and waving the tablet about only to find the whole rant transcribed in the email. 😀 I’ve never used speech-to-text software. I don’t even Hey Google. I can see how it would be mighty useful in your situation however. LOVED the bit from the letter, “nomadic propensities” and “normal condition of bankruptcy” being my favourite bits.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hee hee, yeah. Talk about a “teachable” moment. Good thing is, I can’t even remember what caused me grief, so that’s a good thing, I suppose.

      The letter write dropped several other bon mots throughout his correspondence – they really add colour to the job of transcribing.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Damn Maggie. Now I’m going to be thinking about licorice all sorts for the rest of the day. Don’t you know my weakness for them is many times worse than chocolate?!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Hahaha! Oh my gosh! That’s a hoot! We get a lot of laughs out of The Mister when he does talk to text. I am also glad you did not press send. He has. HAHA!
    My boss uses a software program to dictate, then emails it to us, then we clean it up and send it out. Some of those have some cute funny errors, too. Monetary gain v mammary gain — further affiant sayeth ‘not’ and my fave — in “accordions with flies” LOL I bout died!
    Okay, so licorice allsorts sound wonderful, but I’m the only one who will eat them, which makes them dangerous like pecan pie that no one else will eat, so I seldom purchase said things. Orange slices are my binge, my treat, cause at least Moo eats those 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • OMG, I would have had to leave town if I had sent that email – witness protection, and everything!

      At the store, when we bought the candy, Reiner says, but they have coconut. That’s OK, I said, these are for me. Turns out A – as we allsorts afficiandos know, only the round ones, the pink and yellow with the black centres have coconut – and B – he seems to have gotten over his allergy. Which is a good thing, I guess, because they ARE dangerous.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Enjoyed this post – and the snippet of the old letter was rich!
    My spouse uses voice app for texts and some emails – I don’t – but glad you have technology for those precious letters 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I have a sister who composes all of her text messages that way. It’s a little strange to actually be in her presence when she’s doing it because (1) I realize that’s how she “writes” to me, and (2) it’s just awkward being around someone who’s doing it (“Hi comma Maggie period how are you question mark”). 🙂 – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I’ve never tried speech dictation, but I can see where it would have its uses. I prefer to type when I write, as a rule, but there are times when speaking is probably better.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I’ve never tried speech to text, but it’s fun to read about your experiences with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. LOVE it! Fun story!

    I tried Siri for one day and that was that. Apparently I don’t speak Siri and I’m normally slow to anger but she made me feel as thought I could could scream. And as I recall, I did. A lot! So I blocked her and haven’t cared to try anything like her since.

    However, I recently brought out an old hand-held recorder I plan to use to collect my thoughts before writing. We’ll see how that goes.

    Thanks for the laffs, Maggie! 🙂


    • Glad you enjoyed the post! As for using the software to transcribe letters, I’m not sure it’s that much of a time saver overall, what with the edits needed to correct “misinterpreted” words. But I find the speaking aloud helps me understand the writer’s intent. An indecipherable world on the page – for example, “droontly” above – turns out, after magnifying the word in photo editor, that the correct word is devoutly, which makes sense, given the context.

      Anyway, delighted to have your comments, and good luck with the recording technology!

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Lol, Maggie. Dictating while chewing licorice might be akin to dictating with peanut butter in your mouth. Talk to text is fun, isn’t it? 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I don’t know a thing about speech-to-text software, but now that you mention it I could maybe use if for some old letters I have. Interesting idea. Thanks for stumbling on it and sharing the link here.

    Liked by 1 person

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