Visible and Hidden Transcripts: Word Domination and Paths to Resistance




Claire's story

Clippie and friends

Word dominance

The public transcript

Transcript traces

Ideology saturation

Through thick and thin

Paths of resistance

Assignment Possibilities




I begin with Clippie and his colleagues – these icons are available for download at the Microsoft website, although, Max the computer is the default assistant in the English language version of Microsoft Office.



For example, Kairu the dolphin is the default assistant for the Japanese version of Word.



Also available after a quick search and a few clicks are Earl the cat, Dot the shape shifter, F1 the robot, and on and on. However, although the icons change according to culture and, indeed, can be changed by the knowledable user, the text does not. Thus, although attention appears to be paid to contexts, that attention is surface-deep only. Analysis of the homogenous text provides a clearer picture of rhetorical intent.

For example, Kairu the dolphin:

Still looking for that perfect Office Assistant to answer questions, supply office tips, and provide Help on a wide variety of Office features? Ask Kairu all your Office questions. This aquatic friend will dive into the sea and retrieve a treasure chest of answers for you!

(Source:  Microsoft website -

Other office assistants follow the trope: repetition of the word "office," and the assumption that all writers write within the same contexts, that the software knows the rules and forms, and will tell the writer how to proceed.


Office Assistants answer questions, supply office tips, and provide Help on a wide variety of Office features.

•Office 97 Assistant: Dot the Shape Shifter Dot the Shape Shifter will always point you in the right direction.

•Office 97 Assistant: Earl the Cat Earl the Cat will share his regal store of knowledge with you.

•Office 97 Assistant: F1 the Robot Helping you get answers is automatic for F1 the Robot.

The assistants answer questions not only about how to use the software, but how to write well. Context, audience, writer's purpose -- these are the meat of the composition classroom. They do not exist within Word's lexicon. Instead, the fixed store of knowledge can be priced through any icon – just choose the one you find least offensive.

Word is not a transparent tool, as the teachers and principal of my Vermont elementary school regarded it nor it is entirely shaped by the users and contexts of use.  Its designers have imbued it with a worldview that becomes by default the standard.  Computer-savvy instructors who ask students to turn off defaults or ignore helper icons are essentially telling students to ignore the standard for a particular moment, but this doesn't necessarily mean questioning the apparent norm. That standard derives from the Microsoft' company's powerful hold on the computer world.