• Put your words into Swift’s word machine

    Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels conjured up his very own Word Machine. Here’s how he described it:

    “It was twenty foot square placed in the middle of the room. The superficies were composed of several bits of wood, about the bigness of a die, but some larger than others. They were all linked together by slender wires. These bits of wood were covered on every square with papers pasted on them, and on these papers were written all the words of their language in their several moods, tenses, and declensions, but without any order. The professor then desired me to observe, for he was going to set his engine at work. The pupils at his command took each of them hold of an iron handle, whereof there were forty fixed round the edges of the frame, and giving them a sudden turn, the whole disposition of the words was entirely changed. He then commanded six and thirty of the lads to read the several lines softly as they appeared upon the frame: and where they found three or four words together that might make part of a sentence, they dictated to the four remaining boys who were scribes. This work was repeated three or four times, and at every turn the engine was so contrived, that the words shifted into new places, as the square bits of wood moved upside down.”

    Swift here beautifully and deliberately pierces the professional pride of the writers, journalists and philosophers of his age by suggesting that their works could just as easily be turned out by the mad professor’s mechanics.

    But two clever chaps based somewhere have come up with an online version of the machine, and you can find it here. It’s great fun. I wondered whether this word machine might make a new sense of one of my favourite songs, Mr Bojangles. Here’s what it came up with:

    “With silver hair, he shook his head I spend behind these county bars. I met him in a man, please Mister Bojangles Mister Bojangles, dance! He talked of life. He shook his head and baggy pants, dance! I met him in a bit. With silver hair, he traveled about. He spoke right out shoes. I met him in worn out. With silver hair, dog up and died, after twentyyears he spoke right out. I knew a cell in a ragged shirt and out shoes. I met him in honky tonks for those at me to be the old soft shoe. He jumped so high, then he still grieved. His dog up and died, after twentyyears he lightly touched down. He talked of life, I dance! He spoke with tears of the old soft shoe. He laughed, a bit. He spoke right out. His dog up and died, dog and baggy pants, dance! I knew a ragged shirt and out shoes. With silver hair, then he talked of life.”

    I could spend all day on this. Have fun.