For the kind of responsibilities authors have in biblical studies, Microsoft Word does a lot of things well.1 It does a lot of other things passably. And other things take fiddling until you find the setting or workflow that makes Word work well for you.
Not infrequently, that fiddling involves cases where Word is trying to be too helpful in a given direction. That direction might be helpful for most users. But it might sometimes also run counter to what’s helpful for the kind of writing you need to do as a biblical scholar.
Word’s Automatic Language Detection Option
A case in point is the language box, which contains an option to “detect language automatically.” That sounds helpful, right?
If I turn it on, maybe it will keep me from having to tell Word “This text is Greek [or Hebrew or whatever], and no, I don’t want you to try to proofread it for me.”
Maybe it will mean less distraction from fewer red squiggly or double blue underlines as Word stops trying to suggest improvements for non-English text as if it were English.
Problems with Word’s Automatic Language Detection
Maybe the setting does do some of that. But by far the biggest difference I notice when it’s on is that combining Greek diacritics don’t actually combine. Or if they do, they don’t stay combined.
So, for instance, what should be
will come out as
The diacritics are all dislocated right, up, or both from where they should appear. For some reason, Word’s automatic detection of this text as Greek (besides the English insertion) causes it to mishandle the placement of the diacritics.
And it’s not just a display issue. The diacritics also print in their dislocated positions.
Reapplying language formatting by manually selecting Greek in the language box resets the diacritics to their appropriate positions for a time. But they have a habit of repeatedly “forgetting” where they’re supposed to appear. This presumably happens when Word next automatically assesses what language it thinks a given string of text is.
So, if you’re finding that your diacritics are getting dislocated, check whether Word’s “detect language automatically” setting is enabled. If it is, you might find yourself needing to turn it off and fix each place where Word “helped” identify the language of a given portion of text. But on the upside, disabling the setting should allow your corrections to remain and not be overwritten.
Consequently, despite it’s helpful sound, you probably want to avoid enabling Word’s “detect language automatically” setting. Instead, simply set the language as needed for a given string of text either through the language box or via a style.
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