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Tuesday, June 17, 2008  

Searching with Symbols

Whenever I conduct Accordance training seminars, I spend a little time going over how to use Symbols to develop powerful and flexible searches.

First I'll show the asterisk wildcard, which can represent any combination of characters. So, for example, "lov*" can find everything from "love" and "loves" to "lovingkindness" and "lovemaking."

I'll then show the question mark, which is a wildcard representing any single character. So, for example, "l?ve" will find "love" and "live," but not "leave," since the question mark can only stand in the place of one letter.

Next I'll show how you can use parentheses after a question mark to specify which characters that question mark can represent. For example, "?(aeiou)*" will find any word beginning with a vowel. The question mark represents the first letter of the word, and in the parentheses I've listed only vowels. The asterisk then represents all the rest of the characters in the word.

Finally, I'll take this one step further to show how wildcards can be used to search for repeated characters. I'll enter the following search argument: "????(=2)?(=1)". The five question marks limit this search to all five letter words. The parentheses with "=2" specifies that the fourth letter must be the same as the second letter. Thus, if the second letter is "a", the fourth letter must also be "a". Likewise, the parentheses with "=1" specifies that the fifth letter must be the same as the first letter. Thus, this search will find all the five-letter palindromes in the search text. Most English Bibles will return words like "Halah," "level," and "Aziza."

The seminar attendees are usually impressed, but I then voice the question I know all of them are thinking: "Why in the world would you want to search for palindromes in the Bible?" The answer, of course, is that most of us wouldn't. However, I'll then switch to Hebrew and show where this repeated character search is actually useful: it makes it easy to find all geminate verbs.

I then explain that a geminate verb is one in which the final two letters of the lexical form are the same. HLL, which means "to praise," is the most well known example of such a verb. To find such a verb, I need only enter the following: "(2=)???". I will then select VERB from the Enter Grammatical Tag submenu of the Search menu, and click OK to dismiss the dialog box without setting more specific tag details. When I click OK to perform the search, I get the following result.

If I want a listing of all the geminate verbs which were found, I need only click the Details button of the Search window and look at the Analysis tab.

By this time, the seminar attendees are suitably impressed with the power provided by a few basic wildcards. If you haven't done much with Search symbols, download the Quick Reference Guide PDF and check out the table on page 8. Accordance Search symbols enable you to create very powerful searches without requiring you to learn some complicated programming language.

When I tried the same operation, I got 2363 hits, 2082 verses. Would you know why there is a difference with my results?

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