August 26, 2002
Weird Search Strings

In checking my logs this morning, I found that someone was searching for "the stupid questions department" and that Google ranks me number #1 of "about 199,000" for that particular assortment of words. I'm flattered. See this entry for what put me atop the list.

What I find interesting about these search strings is that every day someone is looking for information on Snowflake, the albino gorilla in the Barcelona zoo. It's almost always one and only one search in roughly the same words ("Snowflake white gorilla", "Snowflake albino gorilla", or "albino gorilla Barcelona"). Is there one obsessive Snowflake fanatic in the world who checks the web every day for new posts? Or are there a bunch of semifanatics whose searches just happen to average out to one per day? I suppose a close look at my raw logs would tell me, but I'm not sure I want to know.

Another perennial favorite is "Jefferson two dollar bill" or "American two dollar bill" or similar strings. Again there is always at least one, rarely two, and almost never more than two. Are these searches from numismatists, or from people checking out the erroneous phrase "queer as a two dollar bill"? (Two dollar bills are perfectly normal, so the correct -- well, not politically correct -- phrase is "queer as a three dollar bill".)

Tangential Note:

I've noticed that many otherwise literate citizens of the Blogosphere can't spell 'weird'. I had the same problem until one of my students kindly pointed out in class a few years ago that it is an exception to the usual rules on IE vs. EI. (Thank you, Jay C.) He had learned a longer version of the usual mnemonic device in school:

"I before E except after C, and when sounded like AY, as in NEIGHBOR and WEIGH, . . . and except when it's WEIRD."

I trust some of my readers will find this handy.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at August 26, 2002 10:35 AM

A high school teacher came up with this:

The weird girl either or neither seizes leisure time.

Posted by: el hart on August 26, 2002 11:26 AM

In addition to the usual "I before E" rule, I have heard the additional "neither foreign sovreign seized their weird heights leisurely"

Posted by: Dave on August 26, 2002 02:18 PM

Are there any pithy sayings like that to know whether it is "ence" or "ance"?

Never had a problem with I before E.


Posted by: R. Alex on August 26, 2002 02:51 PM

Shakespeare invented the word and since he had creative ways of spelling or making up words outright, I figure I can as well. The word is meant to invoke a certain reaction similar to "strange" (but not, else no need for "weird"). It's not how the word is spelled that's important. It's the imagery or feeling you get from hearing it.

Posted by: PBR on August 26, 2002 11:04 PM

I had an English teacher in 9th grade that we all hated but who turned out to be one of my better teachers in retrospect. I truly wish we (or at least I) had paid him better attention and respect at the time.

Anyway, he made us memorize the following (similar to Dave's, above, but with a difference):

Neither the weird financier nor the foreigner seizes leisure at its height.

Note that "financier" is another exception to the "I before E" rule, but in the other direction.

Posted by: Mac on August 27, 2002 01:35 PM

I went and forgot my Beowulf, which reminded me that the word "wyrd" was used to describe something akin to fate and was often used by the Scottish as a word synonomous with "witch" and was spelt "werde-sister" (ie, the "weird sisters" of MacBeth, with "weird" being Shakespeare's spelling).

There is the old Germanic word "wurdis" which meant roughly "what is to come" that may also serve as a forebear for the word.

From now on, I think I'll spell it "wyrd" because I like the elegance and weirdness of that spelling.

Posted by: PBR on August 27, 2002 10:53 PM

PBR - shouldn't that be "wyrdness"? :-)

Regarding weird search strings - You're lucky. The most common search strings in my stats have something to do with "nude wrestlers." There are many variations: "nude female wrestlers" "photos nude WWE wrestlers" and occasionally even someone looking for wrestlers that are not necessarily nude. And all because I just once made fun of the WWE.

Posted by: Lynn on August 28, 2002 09:26 AM

Has everyone forgotten "science"?

It also breaks the rule.

Posted by: timekeeper on August 28, 2002 10:11 AM

There are lots of words with -CIE- in them, where the I and the E are separate syllables. Examples off the top of my head are 'fancier' and 'fanciest', 'icier' and 'iciest'. I think what put 'financier' on some of the mnemonic lists is that it's only three syllables.

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on August 28, 2002 11:31 AM

this is why canny entrepreneurs can make fortunes selling spell-checkers that actually work.

Posted by: Suman Palit on August 28, 2002 03:56 PM

So what if people are looking up "Snowflake the Gorilla" on the web? I mean why pick him out? There are actually LOTS of items on the internet people search for! I love gorillas and while i don't spend all my time searching the same keywords, I do like to read up and find out new information.
What a pathetic thing to write about.

Posted by: G Brown on December 9, 2002 07:58 AM

I was the weirdo looking for snowflake today and came across this website. ( Did I spell weird right?) And I was looking because I am a Spanish teacher and we are talking about Equatorial Guinea (the only country in Africa to speak Spanish). In 1968 that is where snowflake was captured after a banana farmer shot his mother. My students wanted to see a picture of this albino gorilla and we found some good ones. He is 35 years old now. So now you know Dr. Weevil what at least one of the gorilla fanatics was looking for.

Posted by: Amy Ellingson on March 28, 2003 09:36 AM


I was actually looking for your website, and someone told me that entering "Snowflake the Albino Gorilla" was the best way to find you. Kind of like finding sand shoes thrown over power lines.



Posted by: Adrian Christie on April 6, 2003 07:33 PM