26 June 2006

Google's Influence on Spelling

My friend Robert once pointed out the fallacy of turning to Google to determine the spelling of a newer word. The word in point: Web site.

Now, the way I just spelled that term is exactly as the Chicago Manual of Style dictates. But, alternatives exist outside of the establishment: Website, web site, and website.

I've edited for a few different publishing houses now, and each prefers a different spelling, which brings me to the main reason for starting this project. Using Google, how is the term "Web site" evolving?

Language changes over time according to usage by the people who speak it. Sure, many guides like Chicago, Associated Press, and Modern Languages of America and dictionaries try to dictate spellings; however, they have consistently looked to common usage to guide them in the establishment of their rules.

Quite frankly, I'm surprised "Web site" didn't start out hyphenated. Most compound words do. I predict, though, that "Web site" will eventually become "website." It's just a hunch that I hope to demonstrate by Googling each of the afforementioned spellings. Thus far, Google lists "Web site" as the top spelling with 12,880,000,000
results, yet Google asks "Did you mean: Website." They prompt people to use a different spelling, as though they are the ones to dictate the proper style.

How many people will turn to Google to spell words not yet listed in dictionaries or style guides? How will Google's prompts affect the landscape of word usage? Only time will tell.

My Strategy:
1. Enter each spelling into Google.
2. Record each result into a spreadsheet.
3. Highlight the box with the spelling Google prompted as the correct spelling.
4. Perform this check on the first Monday of each month for a year.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I use Google search for a quickie dictionary about 3-4 times a week, usually when I'm typing an email for work and can't remember how to spelll a hard word.

So yes, it's influencing my spelling. But I think it's for the best, since I'm a turribble speller.