Microsoft Word's spell check has come a long way from when a googly-eyed paper clip unfailingly assumed you were writing a letter. Now it accurately spots grammatical mistakes, autocorrects misspelled words, and alerts the user to improper spacing. The latest version even offers to catch a social error: sexism.
If you scroll through the grammar settings of Microsoft Word 2016, you'll find an option titled "gender-specific language," which promises to convert the basic spell check from a simple copy editor to a fully woke word processor. Toggle it on and be amazed at the number of words that fail its exacting gender-neutral test. Clippy's descendant goes well beyond suggesting alternatives for professional roles whose old names include the word man.
Take landlord. When you type this problematic term, a red dotted line will appear beneath it, suggesting it be changed to the more gender-neutral property owner. Yet a landlord is not merely a property owner; he or she is a particular type of property owner whose identification as such has rich—and not inherently gendered—connotations that can be crucial to one's point.
Even words for whom the entire purpose is to be gender-specific are suspicious in the eyes of a socially conscious spellchecker. Write girlfriend, for example, and you'll be prompted to use partner instead, or perhaps female friend. In scrubbing sentences of gendered meaning to rid your document of negative connotations, Word too often scrubs out good and useful information as well.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Microsoft Word Spell Check".