Media, culture, and politics from an aesthetic-materialist's perspective.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

On Technocratic Style

Apparently Louis Menand of The New Yorker has already written a review-cum-farce about the issues of writing with Microsoft Word that I've taken up here and here. "The End Matter" deserves a complete reading, but here are some highlights:

On Word:
First of all, it is time to speak some truth to power in this country: Microsoft Word is a terrible program. Its terribleness is of a piece with the terribleness of Windows generally, a system so overloaded with icons, menus, buttons, and incomprehensible Help windows that performing almost any function means entering a treacherous wilderness of pop-ups posing alternatives of terrifying starkness: Accept/Decline/Cancel; Logoff/Shut Down/Restart; and the mysterious Do Not Show This Warning Again. You often feel that you’re not ready to make a decision so unalterable; but when you try to make the window go away your machine emits an angry beep. You double-click. You triple-click. Beep beep beep beep beep. You are being held for a fool by a chip.
On Clippy, Word's late Help icon, an eyeballed paper clip:
[I]f, God forbid, you ever begin a note or a bibliography entry with the letter “A.,” when you hit Enter, Word automatically types “B.” on the next line. Never, btw (which, unlike “poststructuralism,” is a word in Word spellcheck), ask that androgynous paper clip anything. S/he is just a stooge for management, leading you down more rabbit holes of options for things called Wizards, Macros, Templates, and Cascading Style Sheets.
On the Chicago Manual of Style's somewhat curious advice about punctuation:
Some of the advice is frankly a matter of taste. “An exclamation point added in brackets to quoted material to indicate editorial protest or amusement is strongly discouraged, since it appears contemptuous,” the authors counsel. “The Latin expression sic (thus) is preferred.” First of all, the reason the bracketed exclamation point appears contemptuous is that you use it when you wish to express contempt. There is nothing wrong with contempt. Second (which Chicago insists on, although generations of pedants have believed “secondly” to be the proper usage), sic is a far more damning interpolation, combining ordinary, garden-variety contempt with pedantic condescension. Elsewhere in Punctuation, the instructions are sometimes the reverse of enlightened. What could the authors possibly have been thinking when they committed the following sentence to print: “The semicolon, stronger than a comma but weaker than a period, can assume either role [!]” ?

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