Quirky Goldblum Linguification
Posted by Neal on May 4, 2009
…Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which has added to its cast an actor about whom it is apparently impossible to write a sentence that excludes quirky. (Ginia Bellafante, New York Times News Service)
Ah, I get it, I thought. Bellafanted doesn’t intend for me to take this literally. I’ve learned from Geoff Pullum’s occasional criticisms of linguification that all she means is that this is an actor who’s widely regarded as quirky, enough so that writers often mention this trait when they write about him. Or her. So anyway, who is this actor? Johnny Depp? Jodie Foster? John Malkovich?
The article went on: “Needless to say, it’s Jeff Goldblum.” Oh, Jeff Goldblum. OK, he’s quirky, too. Now I can see that it was needless to say. At this point, though, Bellafante was not content to let the linguification lie; she seemed to want to say, “No, really! I’m serious! It’s actually impossible!” because the next sentence was:
A Google search of his name along with the adjective to which he is involuntarily hinged [NW: hitched?] results in about 18,700 entries.
Now that called for some investigation. I looked first at Bellafante’s own article, which contained seven sentences referring to Goldblum, only one of which contained the work quirky. That, of course, was the one I quoted, and even there it’s a mention of the word, rather than a use. Oh, well, I’ll count it. And to be charitable, maybe Bellafante meant you couldn’t write an article about Jeff Goldlum without using or mentioning quirky — that would explain why her Google search only looked for whole pages, not individual sentences, that met the criteria.
Which brings me to the Google search. Probably for reasons of space, Bellafante’s search for pages containing Jeff Goldblum that didn’t contain quirky got left out of the article, which is a pity, since that’s what really would have helped prove her point. Here’s what I found on Google:
|+”Jeff Goldblum” +quirky||20,100|
|+”Jeff Goldblum” -quirky||1,020,000|
I notice first of all that the search with quirky returns 20,100 hits, more than the 18,700 Bellafante got. This is understandable because first of all, counting Google hits is a slippery business, and second, now there are lots of hits for news sources that include Bellafante’s article. But the search without quirky returns 1,020,000 hits. So about 1 in 51 webpages with Jeff Goldblum also contains quirky.
Well, I guess I’ve been too literal once again. Now I know: Journalists are getting smarter about using linguification. Smart enough to find some numbers to add punch to a trope that’s become trite, but not enough to find numbers that actually mean anything. That makes sense: If they tried to get meaningful numbers, they’d end up having to leave out the linguification, and how plain and boring the articles would be if that happened.