How people find a blog, part 4(ish)

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:

Old favorites

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.

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.

Next topic:

Sex

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.

Tea

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.

Boaty McBoatface

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.

Weather

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.

Strange searches

“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.

77 thoughts on “How people find a blog, part 4(ish)

  1. Well now you’re sure to become the go to source for Strunk and White lawnmower questions. You were already at the top of my list for Boaty McBoatface questions. I actually had one (in person) and I referred them to your blog. Unlike Google, I don’t track the results. I just watched an episode of “How it’s Made” (Science Channel, added for credibility) where they talked about Cornish Pasties. I assume that’s a thing near you? Thanks for another enjoyable post.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. All I can say is, I’m not British but I have a vague memory of loving the Famous Five books – I remember reading them with a flashlight under the covers, so I must have been about 7, so an unmentionable number of years ago. I hope my taste has improved since then.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m 600% sure it has. As for me, I almost liked the Dick and Jane readers, which were unbelievably awful. (See Dick run. Run, Dick, run.) I think what I liked was that I could read them, but still, how embarrassing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The Famous Five books were written by the children’s author Enid Blyton. Most British people who were born in the 1950’s or 1960’s will as children have read at least some of her books. She fell out of favour in the 1980s – 2000s, but seems to have sort of come back in fashion. Yes her prose was very simple and rather repetitive, but the Famous Five books (and the of Adventure books) got a lot of five- to eight- year-olds reading, much as J K Rowling’s Harry Potter books did in recent years for older children. It was the plots and the action of Enid Blyton’s adventure stories that children found interesting, so boring dialog like “Woof woof” didn’t really matter to them.

      Enid Blyton was a prolific writer, and as a result her prose was not over elaborate (to be nice about it), but she did know how to write stories that would grab children’s attention. Her books were translated into many languages and were sold all over the world. Google gives the following stats: she wrote 762 books in her lifetime more than 600 million copies have been sold worldwide.

      A French journalist talking on Radio 4 few years ago said that as a child the french editions of The Famous Five were her favourite books, and it was only when she was well into adulthood that she realised the stories were actually by an English author and were set in England – perhaps the French translations were to a better standard than Enid Blytons original english!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s easy–not to mention fun and snotty–to fun of the pre-Suess children’s books. But I’m sure you’re right that they got a lot of kids reading, and that’s all to the good. But I still maintain that it’s a memorably bad bit of dialog.

        Like

        • Strictly speaking, it’s not a dialogue, since two (or more) people (or even dogs), are not in conversation.

          It is at least intriguing for the start of a thing, like “Call me Ishmael”, or “It was a bright day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

          Liked by 2 people

          • I didn’t memorize the context, just that single memorable line, but my vague impression is that several people were actually speaking. But never mind. I’m not a fan of Moby Dick, but I’ll still go with it over Blyton.

            Like

        • I mentioned your comment to my (grown-up) child, and the response was: “But that’s what dogs say. It’s all dogs can say. So it’s realistic!”

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow. People read my head lice post almost every day. I’ve assumed they’re panicked parents who enjoy fixating on the OCD of it all, just like me. Other than that, I don’t seem to collect any interest in former posts.
    My search terms are always less interesting than everyone else’s and not worthy of writing.
    Lemon drizzle cake you say? That might help…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not long after I wrote this (about four weeks ago), my search terms suddenly turned boring. I don’t know if Google reconfigured something or if I’ve gone all boring and respectable. But yes, I can imagine anyone fighting head lice would read everything they could get their electronic hands on.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m leaving a comment–not a reply but a comment–on my own blog, which is weird enough to be worth noting, but John R. responded to part of the post on Facebook and I thought it was worth pasting in here: “The Great Britain question is easy to answer: England plus Wales = Britain, Britain plus Scotland = Great Britain and Great Britain plus N Ireland = The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

    Short and to the point.

    Like

    • Ah ha! Thanks for that. I wish I could notify that cluster of lost souls fated to wander forever in clouds of electrons, searching for that piece of information. I just googled it with Service’s name and the title and went right to it. Sadly, after all that, I didn’t love the poem. I didn’t even like it.

      Like

  5. As for predictive text, I wish I could figure out how to turn it off on the iPad. So, I avoid writing anything on that little gadget.

    I did love the Strunk and White reference and very much appreciated the ‘that and which’ explanation. I tend to dither over that one.

    Lovely and amusing post as always, but it led me to a question you just might be able to answer: is there a way to find how a word came to be? I know there’s a name for that, but I’m too old and lazy to look it up (that applies to both the word I’m missing and the source of information I look for when puzzling over the history of some odd word). If that makes any sense? I find language to be fascinating, just one of the things that makes me love your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I am disproportionately pleased to discover mine is not the only blog getting freaky sex term searches. Sex maniacs of the blogosphere unite! Also, if I type the words “sex” and “sex maniac” on here a few more times, can I increase the odds that these searches get you instead of me? (Dagnabit. I _knew_ there was a reason I should have read up on how SEO works…)

    In furtherance of that quite-possibly-futile goal, I shall also point out re. “British sex scandal in 2015”: I am quite certain you wrote a post about Dave’s pig friend, no?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now that you mention it, that may have been what they were looking for. How quickly we forget.

      I’m not sure what it’ll take to pour the nutburgers who find your site into mine. And if I did I’m not sure I’d tell you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Can I ask a completely serious question that is in no way intended to pour nutburgers into your site? Reading your comment chain with Dan, I cannot for the life of me figure out if you are having a serious conversation or trolling us with some a highly suggestive-yet-still incomprehensible joke? Or (one hopes!) just Briticisms I am heretofore unfamiliar with, perhaps?

        Cuz if I mentioned to anyone in the US I was baking pasties with extra crust for my knockers, welllll….

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ah, this is a pronunciation issue. Pasties (pronounced like they’re related to paste) are those things strippers wear–or so I’m told since I admit to knowing fuck-all about stripping. Pasties (pronounced like they’re related to the past) are a mostly meat-and-potato pie, folded like a half moon, that Cornish miners traditionally took with them for lunch. Does that make more sense?

          And if I seem to have been ignoring you, it’s because your comment went adrift somewhere. I’m not sure how long it sat in the Pending file before I found it.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Oh yes, much — thank you! I had no idea the word was pronounced differently. I think I’ve seen “pasties” referenced in a novel once too? And thought it might have been a typo for “pastries”; this helps with that misconception as well.

            You’re a peach. Ignore me all ya want — this certainly earns you two “Get out of responding to Alice’s weird sex comments FREE” cards. Two AT LEAST.

            Liked by 1 person

        • When we’re talking about big and small, the question always is, “Compared to what?” Compared to England, which conquered first Wales and then Scotland, Great Britain was (and is) big. As John R. said in a comment, “The Great Britain question is easy to answer: England plus Wales = Britain, Britain plus Scotland = Great Britain and Great Britain plus N. Ireland = The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” The Great in Great Britain often gets loaded with emotion and opinion, but it started out–and continues to be used–as a geographical term.

          Sorry to get all pedantic on you. I’ve been dying for a chance to quote John R.’s comment because he sums it up so neatly.

          Liked by 1 person

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