December 17, 2003

Wedding Vowels R Us

Public Service Announcement: If you've come here because you're interested in solemn promises of faithful attachment in marriage, and you've searched for "wedding vowels", you really should make this search for "wedding vows" instead. A vow is "a solemn engagement, undertaking, or resolve, to achieve something or to act in a certain way." A vowel is "a speech sound produced by the passage of air through the vocal tract with relatively little obstruction, or the corresponding letter of the alphabet", usually contrasted with consonant. Your vows will need to contain both vowels and consonants. I wish you all the best in your ceremony and in your life together!

As Geoff Pullum explained, I occasionally look over our server logs to see who is reading Language Log and how they find us. Geoff described this as "like having little radio transmitters attached to all of you so that we can track your positions, and keep track of where you go and where you came in from and what pages you like and so on." I think of it more like walking through the bar to see who's there, what they're eating and drinking, and whether they seem to be having a good time.

Anyhow, this afternoon around 4:30, someone from the Alamo Community College District found this Language Log post by asking Google to search for renewing wedding vowels, a search that returns 203 results of which we are number 5.

I can't tell, of course, whether this reader was interested in learning about linguistic errors or in planning a ceremony of interpersonal rededication. The fact that they read just that one page may be a clue.

Keeping the marriage ledger balanced, a different reader found this post by searching for " adultery laws in new hampshire divorce", which returns 5,470 pages, of which we are number 9. This visitor also did not hang around long.

By comparison, ten people today have found this post by asking Google for " meaning of sic" (or similar patterns such as "sic meaning"). This returns 380,000 pages, of which we are number 2. I suspect that what these readers found was very close to what they were looking for; and perhaps for that reason, most of them stuck around and read more stuff. One of them read more than 30 other posts...

Something like 200 people a day find us via search engines -- I hope that most of them find something to their taste, even if it's not what they expected.

By the way, my own guess is that that our guests from who scoped out Geoff's posts on his Las Vegas "fieldwork" were just looking for something to stick up next to the water cooler at work. But then, I haven't seen them around the place recently -- though of course they're always welcome to stop in for some quick intellectual refreshment :-).

[Update 1/26/2004: A reader has pointed out that the word avowal is no doubt part of the pattern that results in the vow/vowel confusion. (myl)]

Posted by Mark Liberman at December 17, 2003 05:50 PM