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Has Microsoft Word gone ‘woke’ and politically correct?

Lots of press stories about how Microsoft Word has gone ‘woke’ enforcing ‘politically correct’ words and phrases.  Let’s look at what all the fuss is about, why you’ve not seen it in Word, how these ‘inclusive’ grammar checks are old news and easily ignored in several ways.

In early 2020 there were news stories and social media threads about supposedly new ‘woke’ checks in Microsoft Word.  Much quoted examples include “headmaster” (Word changes to “principal”), “master” (expert), “manpower” (workforce) and even “mistress” (lover). 

If you use Word a lot, like us, you might be surprised by these reports.  There are no new grammar features in Word, neither in beta software nor announced.  What’s the fuss about?

“… one giant leap for humankind.” ????

According to these stories, Neil Armstrong’s famous words are changed to “… one giant leap for humankind.”.  That’s partly true, as you can see here … but the reality is more complicated than it appears.

The purple lines mark what Microsoft calls ‘Inclusiveness’ checks in Word.

All examples from recent press articles, tested using the latest Word 365 for Windows with US English.

Mankind, showgirl and postman are all marked with a purple squiggly line indicating a ‘refinement’ suggestion.

Postman Pat

But Postman Pat does NOT get a suggestion, despite what you might have read, because capitalized words like ‘Postman’ are ignored by the Inclusiveness checks.

Wayward Wussies?

This seems to have annoyed people on both sides of the ‘woke’ argument.  One side complains that Microsoft is pandering to ‘wayward wussies’ while others think Microsoft hasn’t gone far enough.

Just like the Gill Sans font debate, we’re not taking sides.  Anyone who wishes can discuss the topic, politely please, between yourselves.

All we’d like to do is add some factual light, rather than rhetorical heat. Our aim is to help Office Watchers and Word users understand what’s possible in Microsoft Word.

Word’s Inclusive style checks are optional, off and old.

Word does have a series of Inclusiveness checks but most people don’t see them in documents for three reasons.

  1. Inclusiveness checks are OPTIONAL buried way down a long list of Grammar & Refinements choices. 
  2. They all default OFF so most people don’t see the choices unless they are specifically turned on.
  3. The feature is hardly new — since before 2020.

If you don’t like Word’s so-called ‘woke’ choices or any other grammar & style selection, don’t use it.

Even with the inclusiveness checks on, they don’t force or require any changes to the document. Each item marked with a purple squiggly line is a suggestion to accept or ignore.

All Word’s Grammar, Style or Refinement rules are choices.  For example, plenty of people have a problem with the Oxford Comma check defaulting ON, preferring to add the comma only when necessary.

Our problem with Grammar and Style in Word is that all the choices work for all documents and can’t easily be changed on a per document or even per template basis. But that’s another story.

That said, let’s look in detail at these contentious ‘Woke’ options in Word, how they work and some peculiarities.

First came Gender-specific language

Microsoft’s first attempt in this area was the introduction of a Gender Specific Language option in Word 2016 and later in Word 2019, 2021/LTSC.  Go to File | Options | Proofing | Writing Style | Grammar & refinements | Settings and scroll down to Inclusiveness.

In early 2020, more Inclusiveness options were added to Word 365 as part of the wider Microsoft Editor online service. In Word, controlled at the same location:  File | Options | Proofing | Writing Style | Grammar & refinements | Settings then scroll waaay down to Inclusiveness.

All these checks are OFF unless specifically turned on.

  • Age Bias
  • Cultural Bias
  • Ethnic Slurs
  • Gender Bias
  • Gender-Neutral Pronouns
  • Gender-Specific Language
  • Racial Bias
  • Sexual Orientation Bias
  • Socioeconomic Bias

(in other languages you might see some, but not all of these, options. There might be similar options such as “sexisme” (sexism) in the French proofing tools)

In other words, to see these purple underlined ‘woke’ rules in Word documents, a user must dig deep into the software settings.

Let’s look again at ‘woke’ examples but this time with single or double quotes.

Single Quotes make little difference

Putting the sentences into single quotes doesn’t change the inclusiveness checks.

You may already have noticed that ‘Postman’ isn’t marked with a purple squiggly but ‘postman’ is. The capitalisation is recognized by Word as a proper noun.

More interesting is the changed treatment of the Barry Manilow lyric. Adding single quotes makes Word suggest a semi-colon after ‘Lola’ instead of a comma – strange.  Even stranger, ‘showgirl’ isn’t marked until the first suggestion is either changed or ignored.

Double quotes stops ‘woke’ Word

Make the same sentences into obvious quotes removes all the Inclusiveness checks.

We’re only left with the comma/semi-colon correction of the lyric.

The Inclusiveness checks in Word are optional in three ways:

  • Ignore suggestions as they appear. 
  • Turn the inclusiveness test off entirely in the Grammar & refinements settings. This applies to all documents made with that copy of Word.
  • Mark the text as ‘Do not check spelling or grammar’ at Review | Language | Set Proofing Language or make a special style with the proofing disabled. This will turn off ALL spelling and grammar checks, not just Inclusiveness.

Despite what you might read, Word won’t mark proper nouns or quotations with the purple squiggly line.

Pedantic footnotes:

There’s a lot of discussion about the missing ‘a’ in Neil Armstrong’s famous words.  We use “(a)” because that’s the version which Armstrong himself was satisfied with. Thanks to Office Watcher ‘AG’ for so politely telling Peter he’d got the quote horribly wrong … quite inexcusable for someone who watched it live on TV back in 1969.

It would be either interesting or pointless to know whether Manilow’s original (handwritten?) lyrics used a comma or semi-colon 😊

More changes for Word’s Spelling and Grammar
How does Microsoft Word handle non-binary grammar like they?
Inside Microsoft’s “Top Grammar Mistakes” – according to Microsoft

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