Microsoft Word Rage

Way back in the dim distant past (well, the 1980s, for those who remember), whilst a PhD student of theoretical physics, I noticed a distemper amongst my colleagues attempting to write their theses using a word processor. It involved much swearing and cursing at the computer, slamming of doors, and running full tilt down the corridor screaming at the top of one’s lungs.

To be fair, it was not just Microsoft. Microsoft Word did exist at the time, but this was well before its market dominance. Other word processors existed, and were used, but all seemed to suffer the same flaw.

What was the cause of this most antisocial behaviour? After having added more than a handful of equations, or graphical images, the program developed its own personality, remeniscient of Beezlebub. Equations and figures would be randomly selected for deletion and sometimes (if you’re lucky) insertion at some random point elsewhere in the document.

I took heed, and joined the document processing revolution. In particular, I started using LaTeX, and never looked back. I have written 4 books (including my thesis) using hardware that is considered laughable today, and it was a joy to use.

However, this is not a post for exhorting the virtues of LaTeX.

What prompted me into writing this is that one would have expected that with two decades of computer development in both software and hardware (with the hardware being 10,000 more powerful now than when I wrote my thesis), this condition of “Word rage” would be a thing of the past. Not so. My son recently was writing up a report on his school science assignment. This was no book! It was around 30 pages, and yes, had quite a few figures and tables, but I found him swearing at the computer, complaining of Word “crashing and running slowly” in an eerily similar way I noticed my PhD colleagues do all those years ago.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Libre Office is much better than Microsoft Word.

We need a word for this phenomenon. The obvious Greek neologisms “lexicomania”, or “leximania”, having already been taken for an excessive obsession with words, and as a synomym for logorrhea (ie verbal diarrhea) respectively, are no longer available. Hopefully with more visibility of this problem, the frustrations of scientists and technical writers might finally be addressed by the writers of our word processing software.

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