Saturday, March 7, 2015

Is That So Stories: How the Maggie Got Its Name

Once upon a time, a few years ago, the Word-PC email list had quite a few seriously heavy hitting power users, including two or three Word MVPs. I was not one of them. I’m just a user. Well, okay, a sophisticated user. I write for a living and Word is the principal tool of my trade. I pick things up, and I like to pass them on when I can. You don’t have to be an MVP to be of use on a busy mailing list.

Now in days even longer gone by, I was working on a huge, old fashioned software manual, intended for print. It ran to about 500 pages, with a graphic on almost every page. I was using a modified form of Information Mapping which, as you probably know, means a lot of tables. (We’ll skip over any question of why I wasn’t using a Master Document . Or Framemaker. I was, at least, keeping each chapter in its own file.)

Lots of graphics. Lots of tables. Well, you know where that can lead, and so it did, early and often. About the same time, I discovered a listserv called Techwr-L where, among many other things I learned that quite often the answer to a document that has gone wonky is to get rid of all the garbage that Word is keeping for you (god knoweth why) stashed in the final paragraph mark of the document. It quickly became a kind of mantra. Someone would explain their problem and someone else would ask: Have you tried this?

Turn on Show/Hide. Copy everything EXCEPT the last paragraph mark into a new document and save it with a new name. Do not just do Ctrl+A Ctrl+C Ctrl+Z, that won’t help. You’ll probably lose headers and footers, and some other details, depending on how fancy the document is, but that’s trivial compared to losing everything. If you’re using sections, do the same thing for each section, one at a time.

It worked! It’s brilliant! I loved it!

Skip ahead again to the Word-PC list and its many and delightful gurus, including the quirky Australian, Steve Hudson. Over a period of maybe a week, we had a whole lot of people come to the list with a variety of seemingly insoluble, I’ve-tried-everything problems. Clarifying questions were asked. Macros were invented or modified, some of them dizzying in their elegance and complexity. Numerous lines of VML were written. Variables got all sorts of clever names. Bickering was occasionally colorful. And yet, nothing seemed to do the trick.

And each time, in this brief period, I’d wait while the Wise did their stuff, feeling utterly outclassed, as you can imagine. And then in my meek, small voice (stop laughing!) I’d post:

“Have you tried copying everything EXCEPT the last paragraph mark into a new document and saving it with a new name?”

poof. Problem solved.

This kept happening, off and on, for days, until Steve Hudson started to say, by way of saving time: "Have you maggied the document?" Of course that didn’t mean anything to anyone, so he’d still have to explain it, but it sort of caught on. At least it became part of the Word-PC group’s internal jargon. Months later, Steve was speaking at a conference or two somewhere and introduced it to an even wider audience! It got into conversations on Techwr-L, Copyediting-L, and who knows where else. It still tickles me to see it used, and even more when someone says “Is that you?”

Yeah, she says humbly. That’s me. 

What can I say? I’ve never been a verb before.

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