Ross Esmond

Code, Prose, and Mathematics.

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Prose Checking Utilities

I use grammarly for online spelling and grammer checking, but grammarly does not yet expose an open api for automation.

CLI tools

I prefer command line tools above all else, as they offer the most flexibility for when they are run, and how the results are used. In particular, I like to include my tools in both git hooks—so that the check is run before I commit—and in my devops—so that the check is run before I deploy. When using the tool myself I prefer an interactive interface, for obvious reasons, but a build server would require a programmatic result, like a status code. The same tool should be used for both local and remote checks, so that I can expect a check which passed on my machine to pass on my devops server.


Aspell is an interactive wrapper around ispell, a command line interface for spell checking text files. When running it locally, I use the standard interactive interface, but I would need to switch to the ispell compatible piping mode when running it remotely.

echo some-file.txt | aspell -a

I don’t believe that apsell returns a failing status code when it finds a seamingly misspelled word, which I would need to fix in order to use it in my devops pipeline.


I find proselint to be promising. It is used by gwern, uses very good writing in its readme, and is compatible with vim via ale or syntastic.

The pitch is particularly interesting, as they imply that they’ve gathered rules from many different sources. As an example, they would suggest that “very unique” be changed to just “unique.” Strunk and White suggested this change in the seminal Elements of Style, where they correctly pointed out that “unique” is absolute, and cannot be quentified with “very.”

I will be implementing proseline.


Currently has severe vulnerabilities.


I am not a fan of passive writing checkers. Passive writing is a ineluctable part of technical writing.


For dictionary’s I use either Webster’s 1913 or The American Heritage Dictionary. Webster’s 1913 was one of the last dictionary’s that Noah Webster ever wrote, and American Heritage is simply one of the best scriptivist dictionary’s available online. I always use power thesaurus to look up synonyms. It’s crowd sourced results are more exhaustive than any currated list could ever be, which I find is better when I only have a loose idea of which word I would like to use.