Using search engine questions to accomplish nothing

It’s time to read the tea leaves that search engines leave in the bottom of the cup after they drop in at Notes from the U.K.

You didn’t know search engines drink tea? This is Britain. Of course they drink tea.

Why do we want to read the tea leaves? So we can predict the future of humanity, of course.

Too depressing? Don’t worry about a thing, we’ll just change the question and ask what people want to know about Britain. Or at a minimum, what strange questions lead people to Notes from the U.K.

Why is it time to do that? A) Because I’m bored, B) because I have a shitload of small tasks I don’t want to tackle, and 3) just because.

Why am I asking so many questions and then answering them? Because it’s a quick, lazy way to organize a piece of writing. I don’t recommend it, I just use it now and then.

As always, the search questions appear in their original form, without question marks or (except in rare cases) capital letters. I’ve added the italics, but only so I can pretend to have done something useful with myself.

Variations on the usual questions

do brits realize hoew stupid the wigs look in court

Probably not. Silly people, the whole nationful of them.

Does the person who asked this realize that misspelling a simple word has a bounceback effect when he, she, or it is calling other people stupid?

Also probably not. Some people shouldn’t be turned loose with a keyboard.

british manners

Yes, they have them. So do other nations. Don’t let it keep you up at night.

Irrelevant photo: Starlings in the neighbors’ tree. They were gathering in larger and larger flocks in late February and early March, probably getting ready to migrate. The Scandinavian starlings spend their winters here and consider it the sunny south. The starlings that spend the summer here consider it the frozen north and head south for the winter. If they were bureaucrats (see below) we’d say this is inefficient. Being as how they’re birds and all, we say it’s impressive.

great britain why is it called

This is so simple that it’s profound. The place has to be called something. Back when we let countries wander around nameless, they couldn’t tell who was being called home to eat supper or go to bed. It was confusing. Plus when they went to war, it was hard to crank their people up about who they were supposed to hate. “The people over there.” “Where?” “There. You know, the tall, ugly ones we were friends with last time.”

So, yeah, the place needed a name and Britain was as good as anything else. So was Great Britain. So was the United Kingdom. So, if you don’t understand the situation, was England, although calling it that does tell everyone else that you’re clueless.

So there you go. The country was so impressed with the need for a name that it assigned itself damn near half a dozen.

A semi-serious answer’s available here. Just so you know I could answer the question if a bear was chasing me.

Comprehensible but less predictable questions

potatoes in the mould and its taters outside

These are Cockney rhyming slang—the meaning of the phrase rhymes with its last word, which usually drops away (as it has in the second question) so an outsider doesn’t stand a chance in hell of guessing the meaning. Which is the point.

Both phrases mean it’s cold, as does the version I heard one morning, “It’s parky.” (“In the mould” was implied but not mentioned, and no taters were involved.) Being American, I heard “mold,” without the U, but in deference to the guy who said it was parky, I’ve added the U. I’m sure that’s how he would’ve said it if he’d added the moldy bit. He’s not responsible for what I would’ve heard if etc.

I had no idea what he was talking about and he had to translate for me.

For an effort to make sense of parky, go here. I’d send you to my own post about the incident, but it wouldn’t add anything to what I just told you.

why in the uk do they wear hair wigs in court

Those would be hair wigs as opposed to spaghetti wigs? Or seaweed wigs? They use hair because it’s less messy. And you can wear them longer before they start to smell.

As it turns out, the wigs they wear in court are made of horsehair. (That’s not one of my posts–it’s from a wig maker.) That is a kind of hair, although probably not what the questioner had in mind.

For an actual answer—or as close to an answer as you’re likely to get here—I’ll refer you to that expert on nothing much, myself. The post brings in a steady trickle of readers from search engines, but then so do my posts on beer. This is what people really want to know about Britain: Why do they wear those silly wigs in court (I’m quoting, not giving my opinion, which would take much more space) and how’s the beer? It’s enough to make a person despair of humanity.

cock womble origin and british slang cockwomble definition not to mention curse word that ends in womblebritish insults phrases and define sock womble             

In spite of what I said in the last paragraph, these prove that intellectual curiosity isn’t quite dead. Let’s start with by tackling the depressing question: How do we define sock womble? Well, I don’t know about your sock drawer, but when mine’s closed, my socks wiggle out of the matches I’ve made for them and form love matches and when I open the drawer in the morning, there they all are, wombled up next to what they swear are their true and lasting loves.

I used to match them back up the way I wanted them, but it saves time to leave them where they put themselves. And from that I’ve learned that among socks love never lasts. Next time I open the drawer, the pairs have all changed.

It’s womblin’ tragic.

On a less depressing note, the rest of the questions show us that a few people want to learn about either another culture or their own, even if all they want to learn is how to curse more efficiently.

Is cockwomble an efficient curse? Well, it’s obscure. That’s in its favor if you want a laugh. As the one search question put it (without the question  mark), “a curse word that ends in womble”? That rates pretty high on the improbability scale.

On the other hand, if you’re nose to nose with a very angry other person and hoping to convince them that you’re some kind of threat, cockwomble isn’t the first word that should jump into your head. I mention this because I like Notes to be of some use in the world and this seems like the sort of thing you should all know. And you won’t learn it anywhere else.

So like most things, whether it’s an efficient curse depends on time, place, and circumstance.

But speaking of efficiency:

why is uk beaurocracy so efficient

This raises two questions: 1, is it? 2, compared to what? and, C, why is bureaucracy spelled wrong?

Let’s start and end with question 1, since I can’t answer the others.

Or no, wait, I can answer C. It’s spelled wrong because it’s in English, a language that positively begs for its words to be spelled wrong. See Murphy’s Law.

But back to question 1: How efficient is British bureaucracy? Reasonably, I think. It’s not inherently corrupt, which nudges it up the efficiency scale. If we look hard enough we’ll find examples of corruption, but it’s not endemic.

But things that go wrong are always more memorable than things that work—and they’re more fun. At least they are in this context; they’re not in real life. So let’s talk about things that don’t work.

Corruption? A Westminster city councillor whose committee had the power to approve or turn down planning applications was in the headlines lately for accepting 900 gifts and entertainment from developers. He recently became an ex-city councillor, but the story demonstrates that corruption exists. And that getting caught is awkward.

Unless of course it’s all perfectly innocent and he’s receiving gifts because he’s a nice guy.

Efficiency? When Wild Thing—that’s my partner—and I first moved here, the papers regularly ran articles about flash drives and disks holding state secrets being left on the train. Some tired bureaucrat was headed home, planning to put in a few extra hours, first on the train and then after supper. It made us wonder why anyone bothered to assemble a spy network in the U.K. All they needed was a minimally trained crew riding the trains.

We haven’t seen an article like that for a long time. Either the system’s become more efficient or that they’ve squelched the stories.

I miss them.

But bureaucratic systems have a tendency to get trapped by their own rules and become ridiculous. Not to mention ponderous. It’s one of the rules. So when Wild Thing volunteered (briefly—long story, and not one I’m going to tell) to work with a women’s center she had to fill out a form allowing a background check. It’s a legal requirement. I’m not sure how effective the system is, but it seems reasonable enough to at least try and make sure your new volunteer never kidnapped or murdered anyone.

The form required her to choose a title: Miss, Mrs., Ms., Mr. She chose Ms., because we’re Ms. kind of people, both of us.

Soon after, the organization got a call from the bureaucrat whose job it was to process the form. She—the bureaucrat, henceforth known as the twit—had a few questions. Wild Thing happened to be there, so they put her on the phone.

Ms. meant a person was married, the twit announced, so why hadn’t she filled in the information on her husband?

Because she didn’t have one. She had me, the lucky soul, and I’m many things but, being of the female persuasion, I’m just not husband material.

Besides, we weren’t married.

No, Wild Thing said, Ms. didn’t mean anything of the kind. The whole purpose of introducing it, back in the seventies–and yes, she was around back then–was that it didn’t identify a woman by her marital status any more than Mr. identifies a man by his.

But it means you’re married, the twit sententioused (that’s the verb form of said sententiously).

No, Wild Thing florided (that’s the verb form of overstated floridly). It doesn’t.

Et cetera, with Wild Thing getting increasingly florid in her explanations of why the twit was (a) wrong (b)—oh, never mind, you get the picture. W.T.’s from Texas. She understands the beauty of vivid overstatement. It’s one of the things I admire about her.

Unfortunately the twit had the power to approve W.T.’s background, so she got the final say. After exercising her inalienable right to be difficult, W.T. caved and was entered into bureaucratic eternity as Miss Wild Thing. I can’t help wondering where the conversation would’ve gone if she’d said, “Fine, then, I’ll use Mr.”

But back to our point, because we did once have one: What did that conversation cost the county in administrative time? Fifteen minutes, maybe.  Half an hour if you count the time it took the twit to crank herself up for the call and then to change the form.

I said earlier that bureaucracies had a tendency to become ponderous and get trapped by their own rules, and I’ll stand by that, but I don’t want to sound like one of those people who preach that business is more efficient. The recent history of British outsourcing has been a mashup of tragic and laughable. The outsourced security for the London Olympics was handled so badly that the government ended up calling in  the army.

I could go on endlessly about government efforts to rationalize what’s called the benefits system here–what in the U.S. we called welfare. It’s been a disaster, leaving people without money for food or rent. Unfortunately, I can’t find a shred of humor in it.

does the word immigrants need an apostrophe

Not if you don’t add one. Unfortunately, it means something different if you do. Or don’t. That’s why the apostrophe was invented–to mean something.

It’s all about asking the right question, isn’t it?

rude cornish drivers

Oh, dear, we’ve offended someone. On behalf of all of us, I’m so sorry. Genuinely, terribly, grovelingly sorry.

With that out of the way, let me say that if Cornish drivers are rude, polite drivers must be so nice they’re unable to enter an intersection for fear of cutting off someone who might show up tomorrow at rush hour. Admittedly, I’m originally from New York, so my standards are a little rough around the edges, but I’m in awe of how polite drivers are here. But like efficiency, it all depends on what you’re comparing it to.

how to appriopriately drive down through narrow roads

First, don’t worry about the spelling. Or the grammar. Keep your mind on the road. Second, don’t hit anything. Third, if you meet someone coming the other way, don’t get into a standoff, because if you need to ask how to drive on these roads, the other driver will be better at it and standoffs are a time when even polite drivers can turn nasty. Back up if you’re closer to a wide spot and if you’re a competent driver. If you’re frozen in fear (see “competent driver”), look helpless (and for the sake of clarity, both male and female drivers can accomplish this) and hope the other person takes charge of the situation by being the one to back up.

And finally, the kind of question I look forward to

if the mail gets put into the letterbox and not the mailbox and the dog gets it is the postman responsible

Now there’s a question for you. Never mind how it ended up here, let’s stop and admire the embedded insanity—or glory; take your pick—of the English language. It used three separate words that all describe a piece of paper that’s sent from one place to another: The letterbox is the thing in the door (or someplace else) that letters come in through; the mailbox is the thing on the corner (or someplace else) where you throw letters to send them away; and the postman is the man (or woman, English being English and language reflecting a culture’s insanities) who either picks up or delivers those letters—or possibly does both.

In British English, the stuff that comes through the letterbox is, collectively, the post. In American English, it’s the mail. And in American English the woman who delivers it would be the mailman. Or the letter carrier, since mailwoman or mailperson sounds too silly. I’m not sure how British English has dealt with that. Postperson doesn’t have a great ring to it either, but I seem to be the only person around who says “letter carrier.”

If we’ve spent enough time on that, let’s move on to the content. I’m not sure the British post office will pick up a letter if you leave it in your own letterbox—I think not—but the American one will. Either way, though, it’s your letterbox and your dog, not to mention your decision to put the letter where the dog can get it. And you want to blame the letter carrier? This is a serious question? Your hono(u)r—you with the horsehair wig on your head—I suggest this person be sentenced to drive down narrow roads full of rude Cornish drivers and apostrophes until she, he, or it learns to use search engines better.

what does the flag on a mailbox mean

It means the queen is in residence.

+tickety tonk               

I can’t tell you what tickety tonk means or how the question found me. I did write a post about the British phrase tickety boo, and maybe that’s as close as the internet comes to tickety tonk.

Whatever tickety tonk means, it came through with the plus sign intact, meaning we’ve added one. So applying everything I remember from my algebra classes, what we have to do is figure out what would happen if we were minus a tickety tonk.

73 thoughts on “Using search engine questions to accomplish nothing

    • Um, well, Mrs. has an R and Ms. doesn’t. And the English language loves redundancies, so it can handle that without a second’s hesitation. Sadly, though, it wasn’t the form dictating that they meant the same thing but the twit reading through it to make sure she had something to do with herself.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. It the Letterbox is really just a slot in the door, why is it called a box?

    I have to admit that, as I was writing that barely snarky question, I misspelled ‘really’ – I think there’s a correlation between how hard you’re trying to be snarky or mean and how stupid your fingers become.

    As I understand fashion, which is not much, mismatched socks are OK.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Phew! That’s a lot to take in first thing in the morning. Still a bit confused about Great Britain/United Kingdom/England, but I’m working on it.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. As I’m trying to keep my blood pressure at a relatively normal level, I’ll avoid the beaurocracy bits of your post (except to say… no, well, I daren’t. Down, blood pressure, down!) Instead I’ll let the “I know this one, I know it! Well, I don’t, but I do know where to find it” part of me tell you about ‘Parky’.

    There’s a great book (in size and enjoyment) called “A Dictionary of Historical Slang” published by Penguin. (Authors – or more probably editors – are Eric Partridge and it’s abridged by Jacqueline Simpson, though gawd alone knows how long that took her) in which, under ‘Parky’ it has:

    “Parky; incorrectly parkey. Cold; chilly. (Only of weather; in Midland dial., however, it = witty, smart or sharp of tongue.) From 1898 or a little earlier. Prob. ex perky, parky, characteristic of a park; cf. dial. parkin, ginger-bread.”

    So now you know (and are probably none the wiser).

    You’re welcome. ;-)

    (PS. I worry about your socks. Could they be Swingers?)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Interesting history about parky. It seems to have cross-fertilized somewhere along the line with Cockney rhyming slang, because I’ve heard more than one person say, “It’s parky in the mold.” Language is so strange. As are humans.

      You’re the second person to ask about my socks. I shouldn’t have brought up anything that personal. I don’t know what I was thinking.

      And finally, you seem to be dealing with your blood pressure more or less the same way we deal with our younger dog. He jumps on people. We tell him to get down. He does the same thing all over again next time. May you be more effective than we are.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “Tickety tonk” was a phrase much used by Bertie Wooster in P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeve’s stories. He mostly used it as a substitute for “goodbye”. I rather like it myself. In the TV adaptation of Jeeves and Wooster, in which Hugh Laurie played Bertie Wooster, he had a particularly endearing way of saying “tickety tonk” that always makes me smile when I hear it.

    Incidentally, Jeeves was played by the magnificent Stephen Fry. He and Mr Laurie made a pretty good Jeeves and Wooster combo.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for that. I seem to remember seeing one or two of the adaptations, but “tickety tonk” never came up. Or else it did but didn’t make an impression. When you move to a country as an adult, you never quite make up for the bits you didn’t take in as a kid. It’s amazing.


  5. I was taking your column all in fairly well until I got to the mailbox flag. Then I lost it.(laughing – not ranting & screaming) Probably because I sent all my bills out this morning. Perhaps here in the US our mailbox flags should be at half-staff.

    Liked by 3 people

    • That’d work. Since we have letterboxes here, and since they’re actually flaps in the door, we don’t have flags on them. Which explains why the queen isn’t in residence at our house.

      That and the poor level of service.


  6. The Queen Mother, as was, used to sign of letters with ‘Tinkety tonk, old fruit, and down with the Nazis’. And why not?

    Also, the gender- neutral equivalent of postman is, of course, ‘Postie’. Not ‘pagoda’ as autocorrect rather fetchingly had it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I do love autocorrect. I’d forgotten about postie. A lot of British slang lives in a section of my brain marked “understandable but not reproduceable.” So I think I’ll use pagoda from here on: “The pagoda was running late today.” No one will have a clue what I’m talking about, but won’t I sound interesting?

      The queen mother was one of a kind, wasn’t she?


    • It would if I thought I could make myself say it. Some elements of acculturation seem to be beyond me. I used to be able to say, “Thanks, Martin,” but Martin is now working in the Bude post office and we have a confusing array of other, ahem, posties. I have to settle for saying thanks and leaving it there.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hihi, good chuckles were given and received by way of letterbox. (Really? In the US the mailman will take anything that’s lying in there if it resembles mail to be sent elsewhere? Wow.)

    Personally and honestly speaking, I hoped that you found my own addition to the search queries on your blog. Actually, it was not a question, just a greeting to you. I hope you got it. It said something like This is only here to keep Ellen amused. :D

    Liked by 2 people

    • I wish I had found that, but I didn’t. A whole bunch of search questions disappear into the Unknown Search Terms garbage can. Sadly, some algorithm chewed it up and spit it in. Thanks for trying though.

      About U.S. letter carriers: Yeah, they’ll pick up stuff in the mailbox, but usually outgoing mail’s left dangling out so it looks different that yesterday’s mail that you haven’t gotten around to picking up yet. Having said that, someone once dropped off a sheaf of papers for me and the letter carrier got there before I did and I never did get to read them.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for sharing your doctoral dissertation. I doff my moa-hair wig to its coherence, structure, and logic. For a non-existent fee would you kindly tell the world the reason why my country got stuck with the bizarre/banal moniker “New Zealand”? We resident’s are flummoxed.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Aha! I can actually do that (with a short refresher course taught by Lord Google): 1645, Dutch cartographers. Named after the Dutch province of Zeeland. Misspelled (or changed–what do I know?) by Captian Cook. The Maori call it Aotearoa, Island of the Long White Cloud, but that’s not, or so I’ve been told, its original Maori name but an modern creation. Which leaves me wondering what its original Maori name was. I’m not sure it’s survived. The language was–well, narrowed down during the English attempt to wipe it out. It’s survived and is undergoing a revival, but it has, I believe, changed somewhat. And don’t I just feel clever being able to tell you that.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Okay, let’s try again. Here’s a bunch of Dutch mapmakers who’ve never left home. They hear that Abel Tasman discovered a couple of islands so far away that no one they know has ever heard of them before and have to update their maps. But–panic!–they’ve already thrown away Tasman’s name on Tasmania. They’re stumped and swing wildly from mania to depression, so what the hell, they close their eyes, stab a pin into a map of their own country, then called Holland or the Lowlands or I’m not sure what and we’re not going to get into that, are we? And it lands on Zeeland. Old Zeeland. So they name the place New Zealand.

          And that, my children, is how the crocodile got its long, sharp teeth.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. I really think that Wild Thing should have said that she chose Ms because she’s mistress to a member of the Upper Chamber and if the twit wanted to discuss it further she could take it up with that person

    Liked by 2 people

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