Just the alert text, please

One interesting feature of OS X is its ability to speak system alert messages—those dialog boxes that occasionally appear on your screen when something has happened in a given program. You enable this feature in the Speech System Preferences panel; just check the “Announce when alerts are displayed” box. When a program generates an alert, you’ll hear it announced. If Script Editor throws a syntax error, for instance, you’d hear “Alert from Script Editor: Syntax error.” If you don’t like this style of alert, it’s easy to change; just click the Speech System Preference panel’s Set Alert Options button. A sheet then drops down with settings for Voice, Phrase, and Delay. Use the Voice button to change whose voice you hear; the Phrase button to change what’s spoken prior to the actual alert message; and the Delay slider to control how long after the alert appears until it’s spoken.

On my machines, I don’t like to hear the application name before the alert message is spoken—it takes too long, and I can usually determine which program threw the alert by the content of the message. But if you click the Phrase drop-down on the Set Alert Options sheet, you’ll see there’s no option for “no phrase.” You can choose between the application’s name (the default), or any of four predefined phrases, or a custom phrase. So how do you make the system simply read the alert itself? The secret is in the Edit Phrase List option. Select that, then click Add in the new window that appears. When the blank row highlights, type a single space character, then click OK. You’ll be looking at the alert options sheet again; click the Phrase drop-down menu and select ” “, which should be the last entry on the list.

From now on, when the system speaks alert messages, it will only speak the message itself, not the program’s name (or anything else) prior to the message.

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