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Last active Apr 21, 2020
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Verbtionary

A problem I run into a lot while working with PowerShell is trying to find the right verb to use for a function. PowerShell functions are by convention named with the form {Verb}-{Noun}, and while the Noun can vary wildly (and is in fact often more "the rest of the sentence" than a noun per se), the Verb is supposed to conform to a list of approved PowerShell verbs. Sometimes finding the right verb is easy, especially if the verb you're looking for is already in the list, but sometimes it can be a challenge!

I hacked up an Azure function that hits the Merriam-Webster thesaurus API to look up synonyms for a given search and then sees which of them are included in the output of Get-Verb. In addition, I manually coded lookups for the synonyms/alternatives in Microsoft's list of approved PowerShell verbs and do a secondary lookup based on the results from Merriam-Webster. The results are a little broad, but it works!

The API itself is quite simple. It takes a single querystring parameter, Query, and returns a JSON response payload with the following fields:

  • Ok - $True for successful searches and $False for cases where something went horribly wrong
  • Error - A simple JSON representation of the Exception that I caught when trying to make the search
  • Body - A JSON representation of the filtered output of Get-Verb that matches a search term

The attached script is a thin wrapper around that API. It just calls it and then extracts the Body, counting on PowerShell's non-terminating errors and my naive status codes to properly message any API issues. I wrapped it in a function and put it inside my profile.ps1.

For an example: Let's say I have a function I want to write that looks at something, and I know that "look" isn't a PowerShell approved verb:

(base) PS C:\Users\Josh> Search-Verbtionary look

Verb    AliasPrefix Group          Description
----    ----------- -----          -----------
Copy    cp          Common         Copies a resource to another name or to another container
Get     g           Common         Specifies an action that retrieves a resource
Grant   gr          Security       Allows access to a resource
Measure ms          Diagnostic     Identifies resources that are consumed by a specified operation, or retrieves st...
New     n           Common         Creates a resource
Receive rc          Communications Accepts information sent from a source
Sync    sy          Data           Assures that two or more resources are in the same state
Unblock ul          Security       Removes restrictions to a resource
Watch   wc          Common         Continually inspects or monitors a resource for changes

In this case, the Verbtionary gave us a number of verbs, some of which seem more applicable than others. Watch might be the right idea, especially if we're looking at a resource and waiting for something to happen, as could Measure, if we're looking at something to ascertain some quality of it. This is also a good example of the limitations of this approach - the other verbs are less relevant, because Merriam-Webster casts a wide net and because the Microsoft synonyms/alternatives cause us to sometimes choose words two steps removed instead of just one. Moreover, Search doesn't show up in this list, even though if I was trying to look for something it would probably be a sensible choice. Such are computers and afternoon hack projects.

Cheers!

# Copyright 2020 Josh Holbrook
#
# Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy
# of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to
# deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the
# rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or
# sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is
# furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:
#
# The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in
# all copies or substantial portions of the Software.
#
# THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED "AS IS", WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR
# IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY,
# FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND NONINFRINGEMENT. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE
# AUTHORS OR COPYRIGHT HOLDERS BE LIABLE FOR ANY CLAIM, DAMAGES OR OTHER
# LIABILITY, WHETHER IN AN ACTION OF CONTRACT, TORT OR OTHERWISE, ARISING
# FROM, OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE SOFTWARE OR THE USE OR OTHER DEALINGS
# IN THE SOFTWARE.
<#
.Synopsis
Search the Merriam-Webster thesaurus for synonyms that are also approved
PowerShell verbs.
.Description
Uses the Verbtionary API (an Azure Function) to search the Merriam-Webster
thesaurus for synonyms that are also in the output of Get-Verb, parses the
result, and presents it to the user.
.Parameter Query
A word to search for synonyms.
.Outputs
The entries in the output of Get-Verb from the Verbtionary API's runtime.
.Notes
Written by Josh Holbrook (@jfhbrook).
#>
param(
[string]$Query
)
$Response = Invoke-WebRequest "https://verbtionary.azurewebsites.net/api/search?query=${Query}"
($Response.Content | ConvertFrom-Json).Body | Write-Output
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