Counting words

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Far be it from me to pervert the noble institution of Language Log by exploiting it as a place to rant about the shortcomings of an unusably vile word processor. I know you wouldn't want that. This is Language Log, not Vile Word Processing Software Log. However, since the topic seems to have come up… Could I make a brief remark?

I see colleagues tearing their hair out over the way "upgrading" to the latest version of Microsoft Word has stuck them with a bloated new version that has seems to have mysteriously lost functions despite getting bigger and slower. I know one or two people who are continuing to run older machines in a desperate attempt to keep from having to upgrade to newer and worse versions. Some who have downgraded their systems by reverting to an earlier version. I still have to load up a 2008 version of Word in rare cases when a necessary interaction with a benighted colleague or a hidebound administrator requires it. And on one of these unhappy occasions recently I noticed that a singularly stupid misfeature in the word-counting capability. Note these three facts:

1. If you go through File | Properties and choose the Statistics tab, you get a word count, but it omits all of the footnotes (or endnotes). As far as I can see, there is no way to customize it to make it count the notes. This is insane: footnotes take time to write, occupy kilobytes on the disk, and take up space on the page; they cannot just be ignored as a component of document size.

2. There is another way to get a wordcount, which is to go through Tools | Word Count, and this has the stupid behavior as its default: it will omit footnotes and endnotes unless you check a box.

3. Although checking that box makes the latter wordcount include the notes, this makes it incompatible with the other way of getting a wordcount, so that the two give different numbers. Checking the box does not alter things globally: it has no effect on the Statistics display under File | Properties.

I will not sully these pages with any statement of my opinions about a program that will substitute without warning a skull and crossbones where you originally had the mathematical character known as the prime. I will not speak of the stupid grammar checker, which puts the wavy green mark of nervous cluelessness under all the instances of passives or clause-initial coordinators or restrictive relative which that its inadequate routines enable it to spot. I will pass over such things in silence.

I just want to remark that I would have expected the wordcount feature of a program intended for use by grownup professionals to implement a function from texts to integers, rather than two different functions called by two different sequences of menu choices, with no way to adjust them to agree.

I will stop here. If I were to go on, phrases like "snail-slow over-featured bonehead junkware" might start to appear here. And you wouldn't want that.


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