How people find a blog, part 5ish

Bloggers are obsessed with how people find their blog, and how to get more of them to find it. So let’s take a sensible, sober look at how people use search engines to find Notes from the U.K. Because what, I ask you, is more important in your lives than my blog?

Why nothing, thanks for asking.

First, a few notes of explanation: 1, I know how people find Notes because in the administrative background of all WordPress blogs is a page that (among other things) lists the questions that lead people to it. Most questions appear as “unknown search terms,” which annoys the hell out of me because of the fun I might be missing out on. So what follow are some of the terms that aren’t unknown. 2, For some reason, almost no questions use capital letters. I did once find a cap hidden in the middle of a word, but otherwise you can’t have ‘em. I’ve followed that style here, although I’ve had to fight Word to keep it from capitalizing all sorts of things. But when something’s really unimportant, I’m relentless. 3, None of the questions have question marks. I’ve kept that style too. Just thought I’d explain, because it makes strange reading. 4. I feel compelled to answer some of these questions, since it’s only polite. Even though, yes, I know the people who wrote them aren’t likely to still be around.

Irrelevant, and by now out of season, photo: foxgloves.

Irrelevant, and by now out of season, photo: foxgloves.

Let’s approach this by topic:

Great Britain

My most common search question is why Great Britain’s called Great Britain. This comes in various forms. Here are a few: why is england called great britain (it’s not, dear; it’s called England; Great Britain is called Great Britain); when were we called great britain (we still are; it’s a geographical term, not a compliment and not a historical judgment).

I just plonked that into a search engine myself (it’s the easy way to find my original post so I can link back to it) and, holy shit, I’m above Wikipedia, although below Quora.

This time I also found a question about great British runners—a topic on which I’m stunningly ignorant and on which I’ve never written. But the search engine found great. It found Britain. Maybe in the same post I said I wasn’t running for office. I doubt it, but it’s true that I’m not. Close enough. Match made, the search engine said. I’m outta here. Whoever asked that, my apologies. Hope you tried again and found someone sensible.

Wigs

The next most common question, although I admit this is guesswork since I haven’t bothered to count, is about the wigs British lawyers and judges wear in court, and these questions always come with an adjective. For example, why do brits wear those stupid wigs in court (only the judges and lawyers wear them; you need to know this; if you’re the defendant and turn up in one, no one will think you’re cute; except me, so let me know and I’ll be there taking notes) and why do british lawyers wear those dumb wigs (it’s only the barristers, and they have to).

What’s begun to fascinate me about these questions is that they’re mini-essays, every last opinionated one of them. People who want to know about the wigs just can’t help sounding off. They’re horrified (no one ever says those wonderful wigs) and they want the world and its search engines to know it.

And in case you landed here through one of those essaylets, whatever adjective you used, I agree with you.

Food and Drink

Most of these are about brussels sprouts. Really. The latest ones are boxing day/why brussels sprouts and how do british eat sprouts (with their feet while lying under the table, of course; I thought everyone knew that).

Now I’ll admit that this isn’t a full survey of what people want to know about British food. The only questions that lead to Notes are the ones about topics I’ve written on (with a few exceptions that will come up later), so that limits things, but I’ve also written about insanely expensive Easter eggs, Pancake Day and sticky toffee pudding. Is anyone interested? Nope. Either the search engines or the searchers themselves stare right past those. My best guess is that they’re not what the rest of the world thinks of when they think of British food.

The rest of the world, however, does think of beer when it thinks of Britain, and I get a steady trickle of questions about British beer and—getting right down to what matters—its alcohol content.

I also get a small group of questions about tea. Nothing fits the British national stereotype better than tea. This latest survey’s tea question is not actually a question. It’s a statement: i always ask for an extra pot of hot water with my pot of tea. Which is, in its odd way, charming. It’s a tiny snapshot from someone’s life. What’s it doing in a search engine? I have no idea. What did the writer hope to find? A kindred spirit? In case they did, if you always ask for an extra pot of hot water, please type me too into Google and see if you can connect. I’m just sure the spirit of the great googlemaster will be happy to connect you.

And since all the advice I usually ignore tells bloggers that they should link back to their old posts because the world is just panting to read more, more, more of them (and incidentally because if people clink onto another post they register as more page views), I’ll say here and now that I’ve written more about tea than anyone who doesn’t live in a tea-drinking nation will think is physically possible. Here’s one. If you want more, you’ll have to search. Because even though I’m tucking in an obnoxious number of back links this time, I really don’t kid myself that you want to spend your whole day here.

Intercultural Mayhem

Americans in particular want to know what the British think of them, and as far as I can tell what a lot of them are really asking is why the British hate them. There’s an interesting cultural/political lurking study lurking at the bottom of that if you’re in the mood to do it. In this latest group of search questions, the one that expressed this best was things that british hate about american tourists (oh, I dunno; maybe the assumption that they’ll all hate you?).

The flip side of that is the question what do tourists think of america (various things; it’ll depend on who they are and where they go and what thoughts they brought with them, not to mention where they’re from; it’s kind of like what tourists think of Britain; they don’t all get together and put their thoughts to a vote, then throw out the ones that don’t win).

That leads to the question what do the english talk about (the weather; all other topics are banned; it gets really boring around here sometimes).

No, that question deserves a fuller answer, which can’t fit inside parentheses. What people say here a lot (as janebasil of Making it Write reminded me at some, ahem, length in the comments section of my Absurdistan post) is either “thank you” or “sorry.” The problem is that these aren’t a topic. You can’t actually discuss them, all you can do is say them. Repeatedly. Many times during the course of a day. Or an hour. Or five minutes. Sorry to have taken your time with that, but thank you for reading it.

Someone else asked, why do the uk like narrow roads, and this is so tempting that I have to break out of parentheses to answer it. 1. The entire nation’s agoraphobic and gets anxious on wide roads. 2. Austerity. They used to be as wide as American roads but the government’s been selling off the margins in an attempt to balance the budget. Yellow lines are on sale this week. If you want one, you’d better hurry. And you get a further discount if you buy a pair. 3. It traces way back into their childhoods and would take several years of mass analysis to tease out.

Enough. I’d google why do people ask silly questions but I’m afraid I’d end up on some other bloggers list of silly questions if I click through to whatever Google suggests.

Another search term was the single word emmits. (Ooh, I’m at the top of the list here, above the Urban Dictionary. That’ll change my entire life.) To do a search on emmits, you have to either be Cornish or have spent some time here, because it’s the Cornish word for ants—and by extension for tourists from anywhere that isn’t Cornwall (not just, or even primarily, Americans). Like most words meaning people who aren’t us, it’s not a compliment.

Why did someone do a search on it, given that they already knew the word? It’s another one of the internet’s mysteries.

That leads neatly to a sensible question, what’s it like being an incomer in cornwall. By way of an answer, let me tell you a story that someone who moved here several decades ago told me: She mentioned to someone Cornish that she’d been warned the Cornish wouldn’t talk to her but that in here experience they’d had been friendly.

“Well,” he said, “you talk to us.”

Which does make a difference.

Someone else wanted to know about british class system foreigners. I don’t know what the answer there is, mostly because I’m not sure what the question in, but my sense is that as a foreigner I stand outside it. I’m happy there, but if your goal is to be an insider, I doubt it’ll work. See last week’s post about black shoes if you’re wondering how easy it is to break in.

Language

inconsistency of american english, someone wrote. Inconsistent with what? British English? Itself? Nuclear physics? English is an inconsistent language, in all its varieties. Don’t expect anything else and you won’t be unhappy. Except, of course, if you’re studying for a spelling test. Or trying to memorize the grammar. Or trying to look literate in print, because English is always hiding some damn thing you aren’t sure of.

And don’t expect American English to act like British English. Or Australian. Or Liberian. Because It’s not British. Or Australian. Or Liberian.

Someone else wanted to know about british musical terminology and would be better off going someplace sensible, although I did once get dragged kicking a screaming into the thicket of crotchets, breves, semibreves, and hemisemidemiquavers that the musically competent Brits I know mention with the serene conviction that they can communicate with me. I understand that they communicate with each other perfectly well, in spite of using those words, and I have tried to make sense of them. Honestly I have. But if I inhale I get the giggles and go away knowing nothing more than when I started.

I’m not sure whether this last query goes under language or intercultural mayhem, but somebody typed in, yes tickety boo. Twice, either because they didn’t find what they wanted the first time and thought they’d try again with exactly the same phrase (and follow the same link that didn’t get them what they wanted) or because they liked what they found and wanted to go back to it. But what did they want? A world where everything’s tickety-boo? Maybe, because it means, basically, fine. As ways to improve the world go, typing that into a search engine strikes me as one of the less effective possible approaches. But who am I to criticize? We all do what we can.

Miscellaneous

One of my favorite queries in this batch is compartive of the weter. I’m going to cut this one some slack on the theory that it’s a second-language question, and you’d have to be a victim of my French to know how deeply uncritical I should be of second-language oddities. Or while we’re at it, my Italian. Even my Spanish, which isn’t bad given that Americans are, if you’ll forgive a generalization, godawful at languages, but it’s still a bit strange.

The question here is, What made a search engine decide that I knew something about this? I do use the word of. And the. Frequently. Beyond that, though, I can’t claim much expertise.

Someone else wanted to know about lupine leaf curl treatment and should really have been directed to a sensible site. I grow lupines, or I did before I stopped slaughtering slugs for about a month this summer and the horrors chewed through the leaves like a horde of locusts. I think I’m going to have to replant. But before all that happened, I took and posted a photo. And the caption used the word lupine. That’s all it takes to become an expert.

Two questions came through on topics I do know about: how to decline an award nomination and spidery corners, although the person who typed that second one may have been looking for advice about spiders, not this blog, which is about the spidery corners of British culture–or so I claimed when I set it up. But I do have spiders in the corners of our house, and I’m damned if I know how to get them out. If anyone has advice, I’d be grateful.

And there we are for another week. Now go to Google and have some fun. You’ll baffle a blogger somewhere.

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.