The answer

Wow, I didn’t realize how hard this would be.

Friday’s “contest” asked readers to guess the origin of a list of words. Since no one got it, I decided to have mercy on y’all and give you the answer. If you haven’t seen the contest yet and would still like to play, here’s your chance. I’m inserting a bunch of blank lines so you won’t accidentally see the answer.

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There. Now for the answer. Let me start by explaining the hint. It was taken from wordcount, a beautiful, elegant site where you can find the rankings of the top 86,800 words in the English language. If you haven’t seen it yet, rather than read about it here, you ought to just check it out on your own.

I played around with it for a half hour or so, amusing myself by typing the most obscure words I could think of and seeing how low they rank. The worst I got was in the 70,000s. Then I noticed I could simply type in a ranking and see what word placed last: “conquistador.” Conquistador? I’ve known that one since I did a report on Coronado in the fourth grade. Surely there are more obscure words than that. So I clicked on the little “about” link in the bottom corner of the page and found out that the site is based on the British National Corpus, a database of about 2 billion words designed to approximate actual English usage. Clearly they weren’t sampling enough fourth-grade social studies reports.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand: the answer. Once wordcount was designed, it was a simple enough matter to track what words people were searching for. This was soon placed in the identical format to wordcount itself: querycount. And now I bet you can guess the answer without even visiting the site.

Thanks for playing!

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2 Responses to The answer

  1. Anne says:

    Very nice. I was stumped. I think Scott (or someone) called for a moratorium on using Google hit counts as “evidence” in book reviews, but this offers some fun nonce possibities, too: Woolf comes in higher than I expected @ 16,402 (immediately before strawberries), but well behind Shakespeare (4,552) and Anne (a personal favorite & #2299). Parmesan, by the way, is 31,681.

    All right, back to work. A fun diversion. Thanks.

  2. Doug Hoffman says:

    Cool puzzler, Dave. I was a teensy bit close. Kinda. Sorta.

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