letterize: To answer the burning question of life

Which is, namely, does my phone number actually spell out something?

Reaching back roughly 20 years for this one, Eric S. Raymond’s letterize is still out there, and still capable of sorting through letter combinations to find the answer for you.


A few caveats on the way it appears to work. First, I would note that letterize doesn’t really look for actual words in your number sequence.

Instead, it’s looking for pronounceable sequences of letters, according to English spelling patterns.

So as you can see in that screenshot, letterize doesn’t actually spell out meaningful words. Sometimes it does, just by luck. But otherwise it’s just listing pronounceable groups.

I don’t have a reference for how those sequences are picked, and it seems that a large chunk of letterize was shanghaied off the Internet of 20 years ago with no more reference than that. Raymond notes that in the code comments.

Which I generally have no problem with, but what it means is that outside of English phonetics, the “pronounceable” words might be rather odd.

As a corollary, it also means that your number sequence might spell out an actual word, but because the spelling doesn’t appear as “pronounceable” to letterize’s internal tables, it might not show up.

Second, the man page for letterize suggests seven-digit numbers only, but it appears letterize will take almost any length you offer.

I’ve charged it with as many as nine or 10 digits at a time, and it will loyally trudge through.

Next, in this day and age it’s common to think of the zero as a letter O and the one as an I or an l, but letterize doesn’t seem to follow that convention; zeros and ones appear as 0 and 1, respectively. (If they show up at all. 😕 )

I chalk that up to the evolution of the digital lifestyle, and how our times have adopted visual signals to symbolize something new.

letterize is not chatty and occasionally, depending on the numbers you give it, is downright laconic. Don’t be surprised if your number sequence doesn’t spell out anything at all.

On the other hand, don’t be surprised if your phone number spells out something rather crass, too. 😯