A sensationalist blog title, to be sure. But Violet Blue, who does a lot of sex writing, has discovered that Microsoft Word is squeamish about suggesting sex-related words when she mis-types them, even though those words evidently are in its database:
I’ve noticed that Word is reluctant to suggest some sex words as spelling alternatives when it doesn’t recognize what I wrote. For instance, if I write “Windoze” and spell-check it, the program will suggest “Windows” and a few other alternate words. If I insist on my spelling and click “ignore” it tells me I picked a word not in the dictionary, and am I sure I want to continue?
But with some sex words, it behaves differently. Here’s an example I’m running into repeatedly tonight: in my draft, I typed dildo as “didlo” a couple of times. Word’s spell-check caught it as a mistake and suggested the following words: dido, idol, dodo and dado. But when I corrected the spelling to “dildo” it unhighlighted (what it does with correct spellings), and when I clicked “ignore” it didn’t tell me I was using a word outside the dictionary or if I was sure I wanted to continue.
So, it knows how to spell “dildo”. Why won’t it offer me the correct suggestion in the list?
I have two reactions to this. The first is a sort of mild humorous derision, which Microsoft earns and shares broadly with the entire sex-phobic corporate world.
More seriously, though, it seems worrisome in a minor way that a company with so much influence over the “means of production” of written English has the ability to disfavor and deprecate entire vocabularies. Words are what people use to think with. Influence — even subtle influence — over the inventory of available words is real power.