Office Assistant was a feature of Microsoft's Office suite of programs between 1997 and 2004. When the software detected certain activities on the part of the user, it would pop up an animated figure which would note, via a dialogue box, that the user appeared to be attempting some specific task (such as writing a letter), and offer to "help with that". If the user said yes, the Assistant would walk the user through a process to accomplish that task. A number of different figures were available, but the default was a talking paperclip named Clippit — widely referred to as "Clippy" — and as most people stick with defaults, and changing it usually required the installation CD or a venture into the depths of Microsoft's website, Clippy the Paperclip became largely synonymous with Office Assistant. The Other Wiki has a lot more detail.
Office Assistant was quite an ingenious programming exercise (it's been described as a precursor of modern voice-controlled software assistants), and some of the animations were kind of cute, but overall, the whole thing was a bit of a disaster. It just wasn't smart or helpful enough, especially after its first appearance for any given task, and the animations could soon become annoying; having Clippy pop up was just a distracting intrusion into people's serious work. The little sound effects attached to its appearances probably didn't help. You could turn it off, of course, but (as mentioned previously) most people stick with defaults — so they blamed Microsoft instead. TIME Magazine listed Clippit as one of the fifty worst inventions of all time. Even Microsoft soon started mocking their own creation, with some staff claiming to have been against it from the start.
Clippy has appeared as an annoying or tragicomic figure in animations and comics, and will still be recognized by computer users whose memories go back to the turn of the millennium; the Assistant's Stock Phrases have featured in Memes created since the Assistant's demise. The Exposition Fairy is a similar feature in computer games.
Some appearances of the Paperclip in popular culture:
- There's a computer joke in which his sole dialogue is "It looks like you're writing a letter. Would you like me to a) bollocks it up for you b) just off and leave you alone?"
- See this video (warning: highly NSFW dialogue), or this one.
- Then there's the lolcat where he offers three choices for making LOLCats, and "Invisible Office Assistant" is chosen.
- The Amazing World of Gumball: While exploring the eponymous location in "The Void", at one point Gumball and Darwin are startled by a Captain Ersatz of Clippit asking if they need assistance and quickly drive him away. It's worth pointing out that the eponymous void, in the show's universe, is a place where things the universe deems a mistake go.
- Clippy makes an appearance in Animator vs. Animation III, where he actually manages to put up a decent fight.
- Family Guy: Clippy shows up in a certain season 6 story.
- Irregular Webcomic! once had Mercutio confused that the absence of Clippy was supposed to be a software fault, rather than, say, a reward from the Omnissiah.
- Microsoft were indeed in on the joke:
- There were three Flash-animated shorts promoting Office XP, with Clippy as the lead character. He is written as obnoxious and snarky (and he's voiced by Gilbert Gottfried, for Christ's sake), but despite his determination to regain his place in Microsoft Office, he has to deal with the fact that he might be out of a job at long last.
- Microsoft Word Online's 2014 April Fools' Day joke was for Clippit to appear, saying things like "Remember when we used to write letters together?"
- Microsoft used Clippy as the main character in the tutorial game Ribbon Hero 2, when Microsoft fired him for being too annoying and his mother kicked him out of the house to get a job. At the end, he gets abducted by aliens and taken to a race of paperclip people who welcome him as a chosen hero to 'teach them how to write letters'.
- This Demetri Martin routine.
- Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me had a bit about him being taken out into the woods and getting whacked.
- Progressbar 95 has Clippy make appearances often and you have to remove him so he doesn't bother you. Most of the time, he blocks the movement of your progress bar, though sometimes he carries a stick of dynamite as a "present" and if the bar touches him, you lose a life.
- The Transhuman Space supplement Toxic Memes implies that Clippy has returned, at least in spirit, in its future world of 2100:It looks like you're starting a religion. Would you like help with that?
- Likewise, Schlock Mercenary shows that the idea has survived or returned a thousand years hence:Help System VR Tentacle: It looks like you're trying to prevent the destruction of all baryonic life. Would you like...
Ennesby: Nope. I've got this.
- Clippy was a regular target of parody on The Now Show in the nineties. The original version of Mitch Benn's "IKEA", written to commemorate a claim that Ingvar Kamprad was the richest man in the world (based on an assumption that he literally owned IKEA, which he didn't) had the lines:Now he has over sixty billion dollars in his grip,
He makes Bill Gates look second-rate, yah, screw him and his stupid paperclip.
- One of the subplots in the Star Trek: Lower Decks episode "Terminal Provocations" features "Badgey", a holodeck character in the form of an anthropomorphized Starfleet delta emblem. Badgey gets a kick from Rutherford when he glitches and freezes, provoking him to become homicidal when the holodeck safeties fail.
- In the (totally unauthorized, online-published) Giant Days story in which Batman comes to town, the comic's resident goth, Dark Esther, is rapidly reduced to writing deranged fanfic. Clippy shows up on her word processor, looking very worried, and tries to stop her. This is possibly semi-justified, given that Giant Days is nominally set a few years before the date of publication, possibly just long enough ago for a version of Office with Clippy to still be installed on Esther's laptop.
- Please Hold is set in a dystopian near-future Los Angeles in which all matters of criminal justice are handled by AI and virtual assistants in a For Inconvenience, Press "1" manner. Mateo can't afford a human lawyer so he is being represented by an AI who is obviously modeled on Clippy. When Mateo hesitates about pleading guilty and taking a five-year prison sentence — he doesn't know what he's charged with! — the not-Clippy taps the screen and says "Hey, have you had a chance to think about the plea deal? Do you need help?"
- A 2003 episode of CNNNN has a sketch where Clippy escapes into the real world (played by Chas Licciardello) and annoys people in public.Clippy: It looks like you're trying to relax and unwind. Would you like some help?
- Clippy the Office Assistant is referenced in a 2015 episode of The Weekly with Charlie Pickering, with Charlie claiming that Microsoft getting rid of him has made Excel tougher ("It looks like you're trying to provide evidence to a joint Commonwealth/State terrorism review. Do you want help with that?"). Charlie went on to acknowledge that Clippy was a "slightly dated" reference, even in 2015.
- There was a sketch on 2DTV in which Bill Gates is taunted by Clippy, who starts manifesting everywhere in his life, to the point that he's Driven to Suicide.Bill Gates: Dear world, I realise now I have created a monster! I've no longer-
Clippy: Hi there! It looks like you're writing a suicide note...
Crowd: Would you like some help?
- For April Fools' Day 2015, Tumblr turned the website into an Office-like productivity app called "Tumblr ExecutiveSuite 2016", which featured a talking photocopier assistant named Coppy. Like Clippy, Coppy would bother users with pointless questions, though users quickly grew attached to him. However, throughout the day, Coppy seemed to wear down and users actually started expressing concern for their new "friend". BuzzFeed has a good summary of the events here. In 2022, Coppy was immortalized as a YouTooz figure.
- Clippy appears as a gun charm and emblem in Halo Infinite, following his appearance as an emblem in Halo 5.
- And just to show that you can't keep a good (or bad) paperclip down...
- In 2021, Microsoft contrived to bring Clippy Back from the Dead, in a small way; it was announced that their Windows 11 operating system and Office 365 software would henceforth render the paperclip Emoji (📎) with his appearance (seen in the second image at the top of this page). Mind you, this was actually demanded (sort of) by Microsoft users; Microsoft tweeted a gentler-looking redesign of Clippy, saying that if the tweet got 20,000 likes, they would bring him back as the emoji. They got the requested number of likes rather quickly for such a despised character.
- Clippy also still remains in Microsoft Office in subtle form. One of the paperclips in Office 2013 and later's "School Supplies" theme has a notable excited face◊.