Search engine terms (1): Do ghosts make puddles?

One of the unforeseen delights of writing a blog is the steady stream of curious search terms by which people find it. Soon after I began browsing mine, I took to noting ones I liked. Before long, the list had grown to an unwieldy size, and I stopped adding to it for a while. I wish I hadn’t: every time I look, I find gems.

To manage the list better, I broke it down into loose categories. For example: literary (“e.l. doctorow semi-colon”), animals (“big hairy octopus”), statements (“batman there’s no closet in the gardens”), Ireland (“satan in ireland”), rude (“turkish fat sex”), strangely specific (“1920s train ticket to paris”), and so on.

This post is the first in a series. Here, for your entertainment and idle curiosity, are some of the questions people have asked that led them to Sentence first. I’ve added numbers, question marks, and answers & notes in brackets; misspellings have been retained. Feel free to answer any of the questions, or to ask your own.

1. do ghosts make puddles? [Yes.]

2. what can a spider’s wind do to you? [Very little.]

3. do harbor seals have vocal cords? [Yes, and they’re well developed.]

4. why is grammar misunderstood? [Don’t get me started.]

5. what is the point of prescriptivism? [A. There is none. B. To save language from imminent doom. C. Something in between.]

6. is “metagrobolized” a real word? [Yes.]

7. is irregardless a word? [Yes.]

8. is sophistimacated a word? [Yes: a non-standard & jocular one.]

9. is sneaked a word? [Yes.]

10. what’s wrong with snuck? [Nothing.]

11. Is “freeest” a word? [Ask Lucy.]

12. how awesome is god? [It depends on what you mean by awesome. And god.]

13. are you a bromide? [Ask Belinda Blurb.]

14. why were lumberjacks virile men? [Ask H. G. Wells.]

15. what happened to the woodlands of ireland? [They were…pruned.]

16. is there a spelling of rear as rere? [Yes.]

17. what do chefs use as abbreviations or acronyms? [I don’t know.]

18. why can’t you mark books in red pen anymore? [Maybe because of the red pen effect.]

19. do irish people say metaphors in every sentence? [Almost.]

20. which sentence has no typo? [This one.]

21. is it noone or no one? [Probably no one; Noone is a name.]

22. what is to plamause someone? [It’s an Irish expression; I explain it here.]

23. why is my banana bread soggy? [You wouldn’t believe how often I’m asked this. Possibly too many bananas, or not enough time in the oven.]

24. call it bread or cake? [I don’t mind.]

25. how do they care for the wave rock? [I don’t know. The questioner meant this, I guess, but found concrete poetry.]

26. what happens when a candle is alight diagram? [Is that a trick question, or should seven of those words be hyphenated?]

27. what sentence can i use for eek! [Try one with ghost puddles.]

28. what does air do? [Sustains us. Or do you mean when thunder rolls?]

29. does a not only sentence have to have an also in it? [No.]

30. why do people hate bureaucracy? [Fill out your answer in this form.]

31. what’s the difference between misinformation and disinformation? [Answered here.]

32. owning half a dog? [You’ll need half a dog warden.]

33. how old is my wheelbarrow? [I don’t know, but here’s one with books in it.]

34. what is om nom nom teen language?

35. is the word awesome used more by young people today? [I believe so.]

36. is it appropriate to use the ampersand symbol for formal writing? [Sometimes.]

37. what are regrettable necessities? [Hyphens, according to H. W. Fowler.]

38. what are the parts of affixation? [Answered here.]

39. how would a 12 year old use lexicography? [Enthusiastically?]

40. why does thunder roll so long? [Because the sky’s the limit.]

41. anyone seen the large bird at spanish arch galway city? [Yes: it’s a heron.]

42. how do i get into the second demention? [Moonwalk.]

13 Responses to Search engine terms (1): Do ghosts make puddles?

  1. Now that is certainly a fine set of searches. And I learned a new word to boot! I had never seen the word Metagrobolised before

  2. johnwcowan says:

    An interesting further thing to do is to find just which posts led to these searches being successful. For example, to find out about “why does thunder roll so long?”, google for [ why does thunder roll so long], and you’ll find When thunder rolls, what does air do?. Sometimes there’s not a unique answer, as with “what can a spider’s wind do to you?”

    On the red-pen effect: Maybe it’s being a stickler that makes people use a red pen rather than vice versa.

    On affixes: The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language distinguishes between affixes proper and combining forms, though some morphemes are both. Affixes are added to a root, whereas combining forms combine with other combining forms to make what CGEL calls neoclassical compounds. For example, hologram is a neoclassical compound (it was not borrowed from Greek) that is made up of the combining forms holo- and -gram, with no root at all.

    Note that -gram is not the same as the root word gram, though of course they share a common origin: in Greek, γραμμα is both a letter of the alphabet and a small weight, originally one marked with a letter to show how heavy it was.

    On Cyrano (that’s what link-following will do to me): I hope you’ve had a chance to read the play by now, but I’m guessing not. There’s another great scene where Christian is deliberately trying to provoke Cyrano to demonstrate his courage — while Cyrano tries to tell the Cadets how he defeated the hundred men who lay in ambush for him — by making endless references to noses. The final straw is this:

    CYRANO: J’en estomaque deux ! J’en empale un tout vif !
    Quelqu’un m’ajuste: Paf ! et je riposte …
    CHRISTIAN: Pif !

    I’ve wanted to translate that well for years, particularly the Paf and Pif, which all too many translators just leave untranslated. So I came up with this:

    CYRANO: I disembowel two! My sword flies in and out!
    My foeman misses: Sneeee! And I strike back with …
    CHRISTIAN: Snout!

    Now I look at Burgess, and he’s come up independently with exactly the same word! Pereant qui ante nos nostra dixerunt. Though he adds a -t to Sneeee, losing the allusion to Peter Pan, and he also lacks (sensibly enough in the context of a complete translation for the stage) the rhyme and meter. Ah well.

  3. Stan says:

    Jams: Glad to introduce you. Sometimes “puzzled” just isn’t puzzled enough.

    John: Normally I can tell at a glance what post a search string led to. I’ve not been very prolific! I know where the spider phrase directed its searcher, and I knew about the thunder one, but I decided not to link to these posts. The “site:” search hack is a useful one, and I expect it will be new to some visitors.

    Thank you for your note on affixes and combining forms, and for the amusing and illuminating passage on Cyrano. Quelle coïncidence avec Burgess! But I’m curious about the phrase “Quelqu’un m’ajuste”: doesn’t this mean “Someone takes aim at me”, i.e., swings at Cyrano with a sword? Hence sneeee(eeet), onomatopoeic of a blade whistling through the air. Maybe I’m missing something obvious with your foeman.

  4. I think my favorite is your terse answer to “What does air do?” And how that led to an English-language blog, only the Google gods know for sure.

  5. Stan says:

    Ben: It’s an interesting question. I was terse only to avoid indulging in a long-winded answer. Involving wind.

  6. johnwcowan says:

    I sacrificed literal meaning to the rhythm there. I had only five syllables to convey the idea of an attack. I think the implication of aimed in this situation is that his opponent missed him, and as for foeman, it captures Cyrano’s verbal pomposity, I think: this is a man who, while fighting a duel, can compose a ballade in strict form that describes its events.

  7. Claude says:

    It was so nice to be reminded again of the Banana Bread Adventure. After a few years of “baking laziness”, my success with your recipe sent me back to the oven with the desire to achieve more and more culinary feasts. For the enjoyment and amusement of friends, I’m still at it. Un gros merci, Stan.

    Monsieur Cowan a un courage à la Cyrano!

  8. Claude says:

    Also, to the puzzlement of friends, I’ve had an exciting time serving metagrobolise ever since your introduction to this magnificent word. Merci!

  9. Stan says:

    I’m so pleased to hear that, Claude! It was a fun post to prepare. To maintain the planet’s equilibrium of laziness, I have – alas! – stopped baking. But not forever, just for a while.

  10. […] See how Sentence First plays with search engine terms […]

  11. ALiCe__M says:

    This is fun unexpected poetry! and part of the beauty of it are all the possible contexts purposes of the searches, and your funny answers to those, of course.

  12. ALiCe__M says:

    contexts *and* purposes (sorry)

  13. Stan says:

    Thanks, Alice! Yes, it’s always fun scanning the search terms, and sometimes it’s like a game, trying to guess the motivation.

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