Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Machinations of WORD

The title refers not to word machinations, but to the Microsoft writing program WORD.

Writers know not to count on its spellcheck to find every typo. We certainly know not to trust its grammar check, which while helpful, is flawed.

But recently I’ve encountered some new bugs. On an R & R, I agreed with the suggestion to change the name of a character. In the past, whenever I resolved to do so, I entrusted WORD to help.

So the first thing is to use the Find function, and then the Replace function. Say, for example, that you wish to change the name Amy to Lucia. Ask WORD to find Amy, and it will tell you it found, say, 237. Then ask it to replace all with Lucia. Next, ask the program to find all the possessive Amy’s, such as in “Amy’s hat” and replace with the possessive Lucia’s. It will find fewer, but some, and you will command WORD to replace all. Done.

Well, not really. You still have to go over every line in the novel's manuscript, because there may be references to the old name that would not fit the replacement. For example, if someone says, “I suppose you are named after Amy Adams,” the line would not work as “I suppose you are named after Lucia Adams.” Then there are the part-name mentions, such as someone calling out “Am...” when the change would require it to be “Lu...”---
Or if a character says, “Amie, do you spell it with an ‘ie’ or a ‘y’?” it would not make sense in the replacement.
Thus, while the WORD program has made it easier/faster. All changes still necessitate a read-through.

But the other day, working on a name change with a thorough read-through, I encountered something I have never seen before. The first mechanical hiccup was that half the replacements were followed by four blank spaces, not the standard one space between words. And worse, WORD didn’t flag these extra spaces. I figured I must have done something wrong. I mean, a mechanical machine can’t mechanically make capricious decisions. Maybe I pressed on something. Who knows?

But then I discovered that in two places, and only those two, WORD simply failed to replace the old name. There is was. What in the mechanical brain of this mechanical beast would make it come up with such mischievous machinations?

Bly me. But it was a good reminder that there is no find and replace for the human proofreader.


Vijaya said...

I've gotten into all sorts of trouble with find/replace but it's still a huge help. But gah, copyediting a 75K ms again can be a royal pain. I sympathize.

Mirka Breen said...

I love this program. But I have to remind myself daily that it's not human.

Evelyn said...

So sorry it's not fool proof and you're having to do a lot of extra proofing. I, personally, have run into all kinds of snags with Word when I've done graphics for my puzzles. Sometimes I've typed in one text box on a particular page and what I typed ended up in a text box on a different page!

Mirka Breen said...

WORD is capable of a lot more than what most of us users do. But it would take a course in it to learn how to fully use all the features.
My new find/replace bug was a revelation to me. I mean, REPLACE ALL should mean "ALL," don't you agree Ms. Word Machine? ;P

Sherry Ellis said...

I've been using Grammarly. It works better.

Mirka Breen said...

I've heard good things about Grammarly, but also some of the bugs it has. Machines, I tell you, remain machines. ;)

Barbara Etlin said...

Hee hee. I remember replacing an oil freighter with a grain freighter. Simple, right? Just replace the one word. Boy, was I surprised to find a reference to a "17th century grain painting" later in the manuscript!

Mirka Breen said...

Perfect example. Our scanning eyes are still needed. @(^_^)@