Microsoft Microaggression

Lately I have been working on editing some essays, which I do in Microsoft Word. It is set to give me spelling and grammar hints, which I often ignore because the grammar hints are many times wrong. The Microsoft Editor will ask you to pluralize a word that is clearly singular, put in commas where they are not necessary, and try to change your wording to what it thinks is a more concise way to say something that you don’t want concise, but want precise.

While doing my work, I noticed that it kept pointing out words that it warned me about with the phrase, “This language may be offensive to your reader.” While I don’t have any big problem with it pointing those things out, I sometimes use strong words in my essays to make a point, or sometimes use words in context that are not words I use in my day-to-day life.

As a gay man I have been called a faggot before, so when writing about it I have used that word, as I just did. Offensive words are sometimes unavoidable and sometimes preferable or necessary to convey a point or an idea.

I expected the Microsoft Editor to give me a warning about “fuck” and “asshole,” didn’t really think it was necessary for “bullshit,” and was amused when it caught me using “asshat” and told me it could be offensive. I wasn’t expecting it to try to stop me from using the word “cretin,” though in looking it up in the dictionary it is understandable based on the history of the word. I was surprised when it even thought “damn” could be offensive, though I realize there are some ultra-religious people who probably do find it offensive. As I proceeded to a description about an incident when I was called a faggot I realized that the word was not highlighted, and then I noticed that the word “queer” was not highlighted either.

It struck me as odd that two words that are considered offensive to the gay community, particularly the “F” word, would not be highlighted. Many members of the LGBT community use the word “queer” to describe us, even though many older members of the community recall that as an offensive word, so it makes a little more sense that it wouldn’t be highlighted. I decided to open up a new document and type in as many offensive words as I could think of just to see which ones would be red-flagged by the Microsoft Editor. Interestingly, the “F” word was highlighted in this new document, although it wasn’t in the original document I was editing. As expected, the “N” word was also highlighted, but a few other words that I would consider offensive about certain racial or ethnic groups were not.

Also, the description of the issue was different for the two words about which I was most curious. For the “N” word, the editor explained, “This language is considered a racial or ethnic slur.” For the “F” word, the description changed to this: “This language may imply bias about orientation.” May imply bias? May?! Talk to any queer person and we will tell you that it doesn’t imply bias–it is biased, and it is offensive, even though the Microsoft Editor’s editors apparently did not deem to call it offensive.

Admittedly, this pissed me off (which I’m told may be offensive to my reader). One has to believe that the person or persons responsible for this program made conscious choices about how to word these warnings. They need to review the origin of the “F” word and they need to be clear that it is an offensive word. Frankly, at this moment I am offended by Microsoft.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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1 Response to Microsoft Microaggression

  1. Darlene H says:

    That’s eye-opening. Personally, I turned off the grammar alerts long ago, because they are very unhelpful to my writing process during my earliest drafts, and for the reasons you describe don’t find them all that helpful during later drafts and editing sessions. And then there’s also the fact that I’ve rarely used Word since retiring.

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