Grumbles > Argumentum ad Googlum

Why Getting a Million Hits on Google Doesn't Prove Anything

I recently received a communication arguing that a certain word was perfectly correct though I had said (on the authority of several dictionaries) that it was not.  The reason that the word's defender gave was that the word yielded thousands of hits on the search engine Google.

Now, let me be perfectly clear – Google is a wonderful tool; I use it regularly to search for information on the Internet.  But that something gets hits on Google does not make it correct.  It merely indicates that the word or phrase that has been entered as a search term appears in the sites that Google has scanned.

Consider, for example, the nonword "alot."  All dictionaries concur that no such word exists in English; it is written as two words:  "a lot."  Microsoft Word's spell-check (not an absolutely infallible source but still a reasonably good one) labels "alot" as a spelling error.  Yet, if we enter "alot" as the search term in Google, we get 3,940,000 hits.

Consider this:  "Im not sure."  Clearly the apostrophe is missing in the contraction for "I am"; it should be "I'm not sure."  However, this nonstandard usage is so common on the Web that Google yields 2,460,000 hits for "Im not sure."  Enter just "Im" alone, and you get 165,000,000.  Yup – that's 165 million hits.

Well, maybe you like "alot" and "Im."  Would you buy "phish" as a possible spelling of "fish" (555,000 hits)?  Would you accept "the Inglish language" (4,990)?  How about spelling the word "preference" as "perference" (4,690)?  What about spelling "among" "amoung" (110,000)?  And how do you feel about "ain't" (3,960,000)?

While we all should know that "grammar" has no "e" in it, "grammer" gets 365,000 hits – and these are not all articles telling people that it is not spelled this way.  In fact, some are misspellings that appear on sites that discuss proper grammar (but apparently can't be bothered with correct spelling).

Consider phrases as well as words.  Most native speakers of English know that we refer to putting on our "shoes and socks."  That's how we put it idiomatically, even though it's illogical (we put on our socks first, then our shoes).  And most of us use the expression "head over heels in love," though that's not really logical either since our head is over our heels when we are standing upright.   Yet "heels over head" yields 500,000 hits, and "put on your socks and shoes" yields 307,000.  These results do not indicate that the old idioms are being reversed but that some people (possibly non-native speakers) are using them incorrectly.

In short, Google's listing of thousands of uses of a word or phrase does not make that word or phrase even marginally correct.  Anyone who believes it does probably also believes that everything on the Internet is true.  If you believe that, I'd like to interest you in a machine I'm selling that turns stones into gold and water into wine.