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

March 29, 2011

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.]


Perfunctory paradox

April 19, 2010

Perfunctory is one of those words I learned as a teenager and find a use for maybe once or twice a year. It’s an adjective meaning “done out of duty or routine; done cursorily or mechanically, without care, interest, or enthusiasm”:

Cycling by at speed, she offered a perfunctory wave.
The spectators were distracted, their applause perfunctory.
The doorman smiled perfunctorily as the guests entered.
In the foyer she read a perfunctory summary of the emergency rules.

For some reason I recently ran a search for perfunctory on Here’s what happened:

And I thought, “How did you know!?”

It seems to be working now, but at the time I was quite taken aback by the paradox. Luckily it was just a perfunctory search.