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Primeval Soup

thu20apr2006—16w110d30%— 03h33m00s—0utc

Today, in what I’m sure is an increasingly common occurrence to everyone, I was uncertain on a subtle language question and I googled it. The interesting thing was that I didn’t do that to get somewhere, to find any particular webpage, I only cared about the result numbers.

You see, I wasn’t sure whether you wrote “that’s a clever move of their part” or “that’s a clever move on their part.” Prepositions are one of the nastiest, most irrational things in every language. In Spanish you would use the equivalent of “of” in the equivalent expression and I’m guessing that’s what led me astray.

The worst thing is that dictionaries are no help at all in this regard, they just throw at you an impossibly long chain of usage cases. Enter Google. All it took to answer my question was a quick google for “on their part” and one for “of their part” (quotes included!). The first query had 2,820,000 results, the second 146,000. The winner was clear, my question was settled.

But it was unnerving. The web has swallowed our language with all its subtleties — it ought to make for one heck of a primeval soup. Don’t you get this feeling every so often that Google is this close to being able to do true translation? This close to understanding? This close to speaking? Do you think it’s not hearing us right now?

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