Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Google sometimes lies

The other day my friend, Mrs Malaprop, told me that she had been reading a really interesting article about the problem of tintinitis. She told me some more about the article, which was interesting, and then she used the word again.

"Tintinitis," she said.

I stopped her.

"Don't you mean tinnitis?" I asked.

"What did I say?" she asked.

"You said tintinitis," I said.

"Did I?" she laughed. "Maybe that's the problem where your hair goes into a little curl..."

A couple of days later I met another two friends, and I told them about this.

"Mrs Malaprop told me she'd been reading an article about tintinitis," I said.

They stared at me, waiting for the rest of the story.

"Um ... TINTINITIS," I said.

"Yes?" they said.

"It's TINNITUS," I said. "Tintin is that little guy with the hair."

"But isn't it either?" said one of my friends. "I'm sure I've heard tintinitis, too."

"No," I said, suddenly feeling a little uncertain. "It's tinnitus."

When I got home I looked it up, just to make sure. In all the dictionaries I checked, there was no tintinitus, tinntinitus or tintinitis, but there was tinnitus. Whew!

When I Googled it, however, I discovered that half the world seems to be calling it tintinitus - until I went to the last page of results, where I discovered that it was actually only a few hundred people.

Yes, that's right. Google LIES! Try it and you'll see. A search on tintinitus tells you there are 5,190,000 results (and suggests the correct spelling of tinnitus), but if you click through to the last page of the search (page 34), suddenly you are told that this is the last of 331 results.

So ... what were the other 5,189,669 results, then?

How strange.


Tabor said...

The world needs more people like you to keep us on our toes. My problem recently has been vertigo though.

kenju said...

Good for you for checking that!!

Hana said...

Damn damn damn...I always tell student to "Google" it to compare different words and their frequencies. Bloody Google. Bloogle.

Mattias said...

Well, the problem is that google just tells you what other people think. Wikipedia is a much better, albeit not perfect by any measure, way to get information. If only wikipedia always had the complete and correct answer for everything we would pretty much have the hitchhikers guide to the gal... well earth atleast. :)

Badaunt said...

Hana: I'm fairly sure it USED to work like that, and still does if the word is spelled correctly. But I think if you misspell a word then it counts the pages with the correct spelling as well. Or something. The correct count only comes up when you get to the last page.

Annoying, eh?

Nil Zed said...

My mom used 'tintinitus' last week, which I thought was wrong cause I know I have tinnitus. I let it go though, becuase we'd already argued (gently) twice over political things during her visit from the States. Fighting over vocabulary didn't seem worth it.

Besides, I know her favorite poem is Poe's "The Bells"

Hear the sledges with the bells —
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the Heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight ;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinabulation [[sic]] that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells, >>bells<<
Bells, bells bells —
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

That's probably where the common error comes from.

melinama said...

I always thought it was tintinitus. Even after I knew it wasn't, I still thought it was. What did you say? Can't hear you, my ears are ringing.