November 01, 2004

How to decide who to vote for

I've just added this public service announcement to a 10/12/2004 Language Log post written by Bill Poser:

If you're still not sure how to cast your votes on Nov. 2, some good places to start looking for information might be the website for the League of Women Voters, Public Agenda's First Choice 2004, or Project Vote Smart.

I did this because among the 118 internet pilgrims who have arrived at this weblog during the past hour, more than half a dozen have been sent here by Google after asking how to decide who to vote for, help me decide who to vote for, how to decide how to vote, and so on. It's pathetic enough that people are reduced to asking Google this question, but it's even more pathetic that the number one hit for these questions (a few minutes ago when I checked) was that Language Log post. With all due respect to Bill...

(If you have a better suggestion for a public service link, please let me know -- the two I've given are earnest and serious, but for folks who are at this point reduced to asking Google for help, something punchier may be needed.)

The real surprise is probably that the number of people asking Google how to cast their ballots is apparently so low. Given our high ranking on some of the obvious ways to ask the question, our server might have been swamped by hundreds of thousands of desperate undecided voters. This hasn't happened, so either most people have already made up their minds, or else know better than to treat Google as an oracle for questions like this one.

This is not the only case where I suspect that some wanderers have stumbled on our blog in error, during the past hour or so -- here are a few of suspect search strings for which Google currently gives a high rank to Language Log posts that probably do not provide the information that is sought:

truth in politics #3
private sex #3
how to get a boyfriend #4
warning adult #2
russian tennis players #2
incall and outcall #1
log splitters #7
does size matter? #10

I don't mean to suggest that all or even most such hook-ups are futile: here are an equal number of (generally somewhat higher-ranked) cases where I suspect that the searchers found what they were looking for, or at least some information of value to them in the context of their search:

origin of cliché #1
"da vinci code" bad writing #1
perforating mexicans #1
parapalegic #1
inclimate weather #2
inuit words for snow #4
"sacha baron-cohen" simon #2
eggcorns #1


Posted by Mark Liberman at November 1, 2004 10:40 AM