It’s that time again, kids—the time when I dig deep into the questions people type into search engines that lead them, however bizarrely, to Notes from the U.K. I’ve left actual quotes in lower case, as search engines do.
Let’s start with:
The most common question I get is why Britain is called Great Britain. Sometime in June, as Britain wobbled toward the referendum on whether leave the European Union, questions about this went through the roof.
Admittedly, I have a low roof, but still, they increased noticeably. I’m not sure if this is because I became more active online (I started answering questions on Quora, which may have convinced search engines that I actually know something or may be completely irrelevant) or because people wanted to be reassured of the greatness of the place that, without the European Union, would be all on its own again. If it’s the latter, I disappointed them, because all great means in this context is big. I doubt anyone changed their vote because of that, but it’s worth knowing.
The question came in an assortment of forms. The most interesting was, “whistle great britain called great britain.” I’m going to guess that’s predictive text. Why do people keep using predictive text?
Irrelevant photo: a dry stone wall, with lichen. Or if you want to see it as a metaphor, feel free.
One person wanted to know “why are we no longer called great britain?” We are, dear. It’s just that there’s this whole set of overlapping names for the landmass, the country, and the component nations. If by the time people reach the end of the list they’re too tired to say “Great Britain” and settle for a breathy “Britain,” it’s no wonder.
A small but steady number of people want to know about lemon drizzle cake—a post I completely blew and should take down but never remember to. It’s not the only recipe I’ve posted, but does anyone want to know about baking powder biscuits, or scones? Nope, it’s always lemon drizzle cake.
A fair number of people wanted to know about storms that hit the U.K. and Ireland in 2015 or 2016. I may (or may not) have amused them, but I doubt I told them what they want to know. But search engines don’t distinguish between information and a simple mention. Sorry, folks.
Another question that comes up each time is about lawyers and their wigs. The most interesting of these was “do british lawyers own their wigs?” (I’ve added the question mark, although search engines leave it off. I just can’t help myself.) The answer, of course, is no. They just grab one out of a box as they go into court, hoping the last wearer didn’t have head lice, then throw it back in when they leave. It’s sort of like the dress-up box in a preschool. If they run short—too many lawyers one day and too few wigs—the last one has to grab a dry mop and set it on his or her head. Sometimes a wise guy will sneak in a bridal veil and someone will be stuck wearing that—and someone will not necessarily be female. In both cases, everyone pretends not to notice the difference.
Of course they own their own wigs.
I just went back to read my original post about lawyers and wigs. I did manage to answer the question. Even though, keep in mind, that when I wrote it no one had asked it.
Every so often, someone will vary the question and ask about judges and wigs, but mostly it’s about lawyers.
One question was whether British barristers feel foolish wearing them. (The wigs, in these questions, are always described as silly. I won’t argue with that.) I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know, but I’m guessing that after a while you stop thinking much about it. I once wore a gorilla suit. I felt extremely silly. But you know, if I’d worn it a second time, I’d have felt less silly.
I made an extremely short gorilla, in case you need to know that.
Whenever I review the search engine questions, I’ll find a handful of Americans who wanted to know what the British think of them. Mostly they want to know if the British hate them (settle down, folks; the rest of the world doesn’t spend all its time thinking about you), but one wanted to know “what brits love about americans.” As far as I can tell, it’s the accent.
One person wanted to know about tourists who hated England. I’m sure you could find a few out there. For everything (turn, turn, turn, if you’re old enough to remember the song) there’s someone out there who hates it.
Another person wanted to know what British sprouts are. This is probably about eating brussels sprouts at Christmas. And if it isn’t, that’s what they landed in the middle of anyway.
Someone wanted to know about “Britain aunties hot.” I’m guessing that’s about sex, not weather. I’m also guessing they didn’t find what they were looking for here, but who’s to say what gets another human being going? As long as they don’t bother me or anyone else who isn’t interested, that’s fine.
Another search was for “sex maniac american english.” This may be about language—do we use the same phrase? Yes, dear, I believe we do. Or it could be about a person. Or—. Oh, stop. I don’t want to know.
Someone wanted to know about a British sex scandal in 2015. I’m sure there was one but I can’t think what it was. I’m pretty sure I didn’t write about it.
Now that fewer people smoke, what should follow sex if it’s isn’t tea? The most charming of these questions read, “dropped by to have a nice cup of tea.” Since they didn’t physically do that, I’ll guess the phrase was all they could reconstruct of something they once read. I have a post that uses the phrase “a nice cup of tea.” Link made. The search engine congratulated itself and went home for the day.
Several people seem to have been looking for a poem about—or possibly called—tea on the lawn. One wanted an explanation, others were only looking for it. I tried Bartleby, which is good at tracing down literary references, and I got nowhere. I began to suspect that some class somewhere had an assignment involving the poem and googling is what passes for research these days. (Damn, I sound old. And crabby.)
Anyone know the poem?
After a week or two, the queries disappeared.
This was another popular item. Queries included: “boaty mcboatface not the titanic” (unarguably true, even if I don’t know what it means), “where are the answers to boaty mcboatface post?” (I’m not sure; where are the questions?), and several references to Boaty McBoatface and Blackadder. I seem to have become an official Boaty McBoatface site. I couldn’t be prouder.
Someone wanted to know how cold it gets in Cornwall. Answer: not very. That’s not a scientific measurement, so how about this? In the ten years I’ve lived here, I’ve seen it drop below freezing at night, but not all that often. I can’t remember a day when it didn’t rise above freezing. I won’t swear that it’ll always be like that, but ten years seems like a fair sample.
Searches that made sense
People looked for anglophile blogs, for Americans in Cornwall blogs, for Americans in Britain blogs. A couple of people, bless their hearts, typed in my name and The Divorce Diet, which (she said casually) just happens to be my most recent novel. It was only a few people, but they makde me feel good.
“thanksgiving.hoo.” No idea what this means, but I expect they landed on a post about Thanksgiving. Hoo, boy.
Now that I’ve bumped those two words up against each other, if anyone else googles thanksgiving.hoo, that’s where they’ll land.
“gotten manor isle of wight.” I googled this and didn’t find my blog, but I may not have gone deep enough. I can’t reconstruct the sentence that brought gotten close enough to manor to set off sparks, but I’m sure it’s buried in here somewhere. Several Gotten Manors exist around the country, along with at least one Gotton Manor.
“lonetransparency.blogspot.” I googled this and ended up on Pinterest. Want a pair of transparent socks? Or a shot glass shaped like a cowboy boot? That’s what I found there.
“cornish story book with work camp.” Googling this brought up a bunch of storybook links, including one featuring the Famous Five—a series of British kids’ book that includes the worst line of dialogue ever written: “Woof woof,” said Timmy.
Timmy, in case you’re worried, is a dog.
I know, if you’re British and over I’m not sure what age, you probably have a warm spot in your heart for the Famous Five books, and I don’t want to be either culturally insensitive or just plain snotty, but they’re really, truly, completely awful. “ ‘Woof woof,’ said Timmy”? Come on.
“shiner book uk.” I have no idea what this means. Neither does Google, which asked if I wanted shiner bock. Oddly enough, another question was about “shiner bock uk.” Which seems to be a beer, although Google also offered me stain removing powder.
Strange searches that almost make sense
Someone typed in, “improving myself and the lord’s house.” If this turned up on a religious bloggers site, it would make sense. Here, though? I don’t do religion. I don’t do self-improvement. I don’t mind if other people do as long as they don’t get all evangelical on me. I can only assume that the search engines are developing a sense of humor.
One person typed, “remembering latin grammar.” I never knew any Latin grammar to remember or forget but may have used the phrase Latin grammar in writing about a few absurdities that have been imposed on English because they echo Latin grammar.
Damn. I’ve used the phrase again, increasing the chances of muddying some poor soul’s search for information about Latin grammar. Whoever you are, I apologize.
Someone else was looking for “notes from the avon and somerset police.” Sigh. If you need a matchmaker, don’t use a search engine. I did mention the Avon and Somerset police. My blog title uses the phrase notes from. Put the two together and you have something other than what the person was looking for.
And finally, “strunk and white lawnmowers.” Bizarrely enough, I know exactly what this one’s about. It has to do with the distinction (in American but not British English) between that and which, which (not that) the grammar reference by Strunk and White illustrates with a couple of sentences about lawnmowers.
How strange is it that someone with a lousy memory can pull that out of the murky depths, without having to look it up? I didn’t remember writing about it, but I did, and if you want to find it, it’s here.