Emily Thurston

08 Apr 2020

“There goes my hero – he’s ordinary.” As always, the Foo Fighters hit the nail on the head. My technology hero is ordinary, but I’m filled with almost as much passion for it as a gruff Dave Grohl. It’s uncelebrated, unglamorous and occasionally cursed – but my tech hero has grown up with me and enabled some of my best work. It’s time to write a love letter to Microsoft Word.

A lifelong Linotype affair

I first used Microsoft Word back in the early nineties. It was different, back then. The banners were greyer, the dialogue boxes were…boxier. Even the icons looked like actual analogue switches, that you had to jam down to get some cheeky bullet points or sweet italics. But using Word was magical. You could see your ideas go from taps on a keyboard to images on a screen (often in size 72 or Smart Art. I was seven). You could print things out that looked real. I was hooked. Microsoft Word was a constant companion. It stayed with me through the difficult days of emo poetry writing, when I added terms like “MCR” and “pwned” to the dictionary on the family PC – to everyone’s delight. I became supercool, writing everything in deep purple and Palatino Linotype (edgy). Word understood. I’m not saying I always used Word right. For one research project, I spent a whole summer taking painstaking photos of historic locations in the City of London. Unfortunately, I then compressed the images clumsily to three-per-page on Word. I was baffled (and furious) when the file was 12MB, and much too large to submit. But that wasn’t Word’s fault. We both had stuff to work on.

You’re an Office Wizard, Clippy

Microsoft Word changed over the years. It’s always been happy to help, but back in the day, assistance came in the guise of Clippy, an endearingly deranged “Office Wizard.” I was vaguely disturbed when Clippy second-guessed everything I wrote with an ambitious “It looks like you’re trying to write a letter/poster/tribute to the music of Panic! At the Disco.” No, Clippy! Stop reading my work! Over the years, I found incredible new tools – from Format Painter to Compare and Combine – and each one felt like a secret victory. Nowadays, we have Cortana – a smooth virtual assistant – to help with all our needs. It makes Word much more inviting, but her snazzy natural language processing makes all those hours spent learning keyboard shortcuts feel somewhat wasted. I guess we all have to grow up some time.

Fragment (consider revising)

But it’s not all been plain sailing. Before I moved Down South to London, I was deeply hurt at the red and green squiggly lines calling out my Salford dialect. I was devastated to learn that “chuffed”, “mithered” and “what I et for dinner as I was sat in the ginnel” are not the Queen’s English. The challenges continue to this day. Wordcount is the ultimate frenemy. You can write a perfect by-line on a fascinating topic – then see with horror that it’s 600 words over the limit. Alternatively, you can spend hours struggling to find those last 200 words – and then desperately replace every “but” with “on the other hand.” And sometimes I still don’t fully understand the black magic that has made my paragraph indented, contrary to all the evidence of the hidden formatting symbols. But these are the joys of Word.


As a member of the editorial team, you might expect me to have a more sophisticated palette when it comes to word processing. Microsoft Word certainly isn’t flashy like Pages or hyper collaborative like Google Docs. But Word is a great unifier. Everyone from technology CEOs to my great aunt can use it and understand it. It’s dependable, endearing, ordinary and excellent. Like it says on the tin – you can focus on the words. Got an idea? Stick it in a Word doc, and let’s get cracking.