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If Only We Could “Maggie” Maggie Herself

When someone’s name becomes legendary — becomes a verb, even — it can be a surprise to learn they had “another life”; a life beyond that singular fame. The editing world lost such a star this weekend; someone we have come to revere for the Word tip she shared, it was that valuable. And in Maggie Secara’s sudden passing, we learned she was a rounded woman, not just the namesake of a sanity-saving computer trick.

pretzel shaped as a reverse P, the pilcrow paragraph mark

Maggie’s Clever Hack

If you’ve needed to resuscitate a problematic Word document, you’ve probably done “a Maggie.” Copying everything but the final pilcrow into a fresh Word document breathes hope into files that seem beyond redemption because Word saves a hoard of information in that last hidden character. And that hoard can cause Word to crash or fail, again and again. Omitting the final pilcrow purges the problematic hidden code.

“To Maggie” isn’t a technical term that Microsoft recognizes. This name arose in honour of this woman who popularized the process by sharing it repeatedly in an online forum for Word users.

Getting to Know Maggie

“Is that you?” Maggie Secara often got asked. “Yeah, that’s me,” she’d say. “What can I say? I’ve never been a verb before.”

Though Maggie proved to be mere mortal, she is remembered for a surprising array of talents. I knew her as a technical writer and novelist, but many are speaking to her enthusiasm for things renaissance. In fact, if you’re working on something set in that era, you’ll find her book invaluable for fact checking: A Compendium of Common Knowledge 1558-1603.

Maggie’s writing and editing work took her so deeply into MS Word software, that she became an uber-user. She picked up the pilcrow-excluding file remedy in one of the user forums and shared it whenever it could help. One day, the planets seemed to align (nefariously) and several people had problematic Word files at once. Maggie explained this solution so often that others in the forum began asking: “Did you Maggie it?” The new term spread beyond that forum when one person spoke of it at a conference.

Since then, Maggie’s legend spread to other forums and to the editing community at large. “The Maggie” has recovered innumerable files from snafu, and saved almost as much sanity.

Rest in peace, Maggie. If only we could take back your final pilcrow.

Here’s more about the Word hack, in Maggie’s own words.

cover of editing in word 2016 2nd edition

Pilcrow pretzel photo by Windell Oskay, used under CC BY-2.0 license.