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.