Corrupt Font Errors in Word 2004/OS X 10.4.x (Tiger)

Article contributed by Beth Rosengard

The Problem

In OS X 10.4.x (Tiger), when you launch Word 2004, you get multiple errors saying something like “(name of font) is corrupt and should be removed.”  This happens for many, if not all, your fonts and without any apparent cause (although more likely when installing Office 2004 in Tiger or just after upgrading to Tiger).  You click out of the error dialogs, check your fonts only to find out that they are not corrupt, and then everything is fine until you quit and relaunch Word, whereupon the entire mess repeats.

The Cause

When Word launches, it checks each font before loading it.  The splash screen shows "Optimizing font menu performance..." during this process.  However, something about certain installations of Tiger causes Word to report fonts as corrupt while this is going on, even when the fonts appear to be perfectly fine.

Simply put, no one knows the cause ... yet.  The “corrupt font error” issue is annoying (to say the least) and unpredictable.  It only hits a small percentage of Office users and it doesn't reproduce consistently.  That makes it very hard to pin down and fix; as does the fact that it’s hard to determine whether there’s genuine font corruption as opposed to an illegitimate warning related to Office font validation.

What To Do About It

There are seven or eight things to try listed below. None of the following procedures work in every case and none will reliably prevent a repeat visit of the bug, even when they work initially.  However, many users have found at least temporary relief—usually these will work at least until you have to reboot the computer.  If one of these works for you or if you have another solution or information that could lead to a permanent fix, please let Apple, Microsoft and/or us know about it. You can reach us on the Microsoft Answers site.

The Procedures

Update

Be sure you have both Office/Word and your OS fully updated.  Click here for more information on updating.

Check for Font Corruption

It’s always possible that you actually have corrupt fonts in your system.  You can use Tiger’s Font Book application to check.  Select all your fonts in Font Book and use “File:Validate Font”.  Alternatively, you can use more powerful, third-party applications like Font Doctor [Lene Fredborg, 1-Oct-2018: Removed outdated link to http://www.morrisonsoftdesign.com/with_fl/index-7.html]. If you don’t own this software already, you can use it in demo mode to scan for corrupted fonts.

A new (July 2006) workaround related to this procedure has been posted by Jeff Boultinghouse  on one of the Microsoft newsgroups.  This is the only report of success with this method that we have seen so far but it looks promising.

I stumbled across another solution that worked in my case and may help other users. A program called Linotype FontExplorer X is available for free download. This program contains a utility under the "Tools" menu called "Clean System Fonts folders...." When selected, this utility puts up a dialog box to confirm that the user wishes to run it and also states, "All fonts not installed by the Mac OS X Installation will be moved to a folder on your Desktop. You can backup this folder afterwards for the case that an application needs some of these fonts or you can delete them all."

The utility takes very little time to run. When it finished, I was able to launch and run Office applications with no errors.

Many of the fonts that were moved to the Desktop had names that clearly identified them as application-specific (such as OCR-A installed by TurboTax) and had been installed as part of the application installation. I then started FontBook and reinstalled several fonts that had previously been declared as "corrupt" by Office. Again, Office applications launched with no difficulty and the reinstalled fonts were available for use by the Office application. I proceeded to reinstall all of the fonts using FontBook. A number of them were rejected by FontBook (which had not been previously rejected by the FontBook "Validate Fonts" function) and were not reinstalled. Following this, all Office applications work just fine, as do all other applications I have tested.

My hunch is that Linotype FontExplorer X recognizes a flag in each font file that identifies whether it was installed by OS X or not and does a better job of clearing the caches and font folders. FontBook is able to recognize truly corrupt font files when attempting to reinstall them and thus prevents the user from putting bad fonts back in the system. It's not clear why Office was reporting perfectly good fonts as corrupt, but the sequence of events shows that there were, in fact, bad font files present. Many of the fonts that would not reinstall had very old file creation dates, some as far back as 1993. By following this procedure, I had confirmed the status of each font file and had used OS X to reinstall all of the fonts that had been installed by other applications.

I hope this information is useful and presents an effective solution for other users. I know from experience that this can be an extraordinarily frustrating problem to solve.

Remove Duplicate Fonts

Make absolutely sure there are no duplicate fonts.  Use OS X’s Font Book or a third-party application to resolve duplicates.

Remove (or cut back) the OS 9 fonts

If you need to use OS 9 fonts on occasion, keep only the necessary ones.  If you don’t need them, rename or just delete the OS 9 fonts folder.

Delete the Office Font Cache

Quit all Office applications, trash the Office Font Cache – Home/Library/Preferences/Microsoft/Office Font Cache (11) – empty the trash, and then relaunch Word.

Delete the System and User Font Caches

Quit all Office applications and drag the following files to the trash.  Reboot, and then empty the trash.

You can delete these files/folders yourself or use a third-party utility to do it for you: TinkerTool System, or Font Finagler (shareware). Even if the application doesn’t ask you to, you should reboot immediately after deleting the system font caches.

Safe Boot

A participant on the microsoft.public.mac.office newsgroup (Jeffrey Hicken) recommends this procedure:  First, do a safe boot (start up your machine and when you hear the chime, hold down the Shift key until you see the spinning progress clock (maybe 2-3 minutes).  Next, launch Word.  Finally, restart your machine normally.  This worked for months for Jeffrey until he installed a new font, at which time problems arose again; but repeating the Safe Boot procedure got things back to normal.

To be honest, we’re not sure why doing a Safe Boot is any more efficacious than deleting particular font caches (since that’s part of what Safe Boot does), but we can’t say for sure either that one of its other actions doesn’t help.  (Apple isn’t exactly verbose on what Safe Boot does but here’s what they have to say.  At any rate, it’s worth a try.

"Remove" the Font Cache Tool

Some users have reported that trashing the Font Cache Tool fixes this problem for them.  While it doesn’t actually fix anything, the procedure does prevent the problem from coming to view by eliminating the "font optimization” process from occurring at all.  This action, however, has repercussions that you may not like: 

There is a workaround however:  Another newsgroup contributor (J. Bingham) reported that instead of trashing the Font Cache Tool, you can archive it, rename it or drag it into a subfolder so Office doesn’t recognize it.  That way, if you need it again, you can restore it.  NOTE:  You should restore the Font Cache Tool before updating Office.

We don’t really recommend the above hack, but if you’re really desperate . . .

Go back to OS X 10.3.9

This is a last ditch workaround but the fact is that the “corrupt font error” occurs almost exclusively in Tiger (OS 10.4.x). We do have one report of what appears to be this same error in an installation of OS X 10.3.9.

In Closing

Thanks to all the newsgroup posters who contributed to this article.  We will continue to update it as new information comes in.  Hopefully Apple or Microsoft will figure out how to reproduce this bug so they can fix it!