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Microsoft Word has really done it to me this time. I need some expert help, Language Log readers. I have a perfectly ordinary file (a simple letter template showing my home address), created in Word on an American Macintosh Powerbook using an American-purchased copy of Word, and when I open it as a copy on my UK-purchased MacBook Pro (though not when I open it as the original) almost everything works except that the file is deranged, and thinks it is supposed to be in French.

Editing the file provokes enforcement of French spacing conventions (colons and semicolons are preceded by an extra inserted space that I do not type); the double quotation symbols (‘‘like this’’) appear as those funny French marks that look a bit like pairs of less-thans and greater-thans (sort of <<like this>>); and, weirdest of all, the spelling and checking of "grammaire et style" turn into French. Word works through the file checking every significant English word and rejecting it for insufficient francophonicity (with no suggestions for respelling), underlining them all in red, though most French words are accepted. The grammar check not only assumes that French is being checked but also reports its results and queries in French. Saving the file preserves the pseudo-Frenchness.

If you use Word, you will know why I am asking the Language Log community rather than Microsoft. The built-in help files in the program are worthless, telling you things you know and remaining silent on crucial misfeatures and problems; the online help is unusable time-wasting crap with similar properties; and there are no sensible ways of getting through to tech support without spending hours on the phone. If I did get someone at Microsoft to look at this they would probably be instructed to lie about it and then fix the bug quietly at the next upgrade; Microsoft likes to bury its failures secretly. I have examined all of the Preference settings, of course, but to no avail. The Language setting is "English (US)", in keeping with the origin of the document.

I only use the appalling, bloated, slow, clunky, maddening, useless piece of software excrement that is doing this to me because administrative staff and occasionally even scholars with no taste or discernment, or even scholarly journals, force me to use it on pain of not being able to work with them at all. If Nature insists on receiving a Word file, and you want to write for Nature, then you grin and bear it; you have to send them the vile format that they request. If my Head of School sends me a Word file to edit in my capacity as Head of Linguistics and English Language, I have no real choice but to fire up Word and edit the damn thing (though that will often fail because of special characters that do not survive the transfer between machines — remember the horror story in this post).

But I can't send out a file to a journal with French quotation marks and spacing, can I? What on earth can be the source of this bug? And is there any kind of workaround or fix, short of just retyping the content into a newly created file? Is there an exorcism ritual for this? How can the program report that my language setting is American English and at the same offer me only French grammar checking?

If you want to experiment, a Word file with the property I am talking about is saved, as a .docx file, here.

I have verified that the effect remains when the file is opened on a different Mac, and in fact on that machine the Options choice under Tools | Spelling and Grammar showed that the document was being treated as French. The trouble is that changing this to British English in the drop-down made absolutely no difference: the spelling was still checked against French so nearly every major word in the document was marked as a misspelling, and the gramar check was still Grammaire et Style.



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