or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, March 20, 2006

Bang Bang

As long as you understand its limitations--alongside the fact that it casts a very wide and undiscriminating net--Google can be your best friend.

On Friday, the local newsrag the Mocton Times and Transcript had a front-page article about, I don't know, gun control or something. The story was continued onto the second page, and the page-two headline began with the word "Hangun".

Is "hangun" really a word? What it is is either a clumsy typo or a dreadful misspelling based on an equally dreadful pronunciation. Either way, it doesn't belong in a respectable newspaper, which is what it was doing in the T&T, I guess.

However, after having written my sort-of defence of prescriptivism on Saturday, I began wondering if what we had on our hands was an actual, explicable change in the language or just a stupid mistake, so I put Google through its paces.

Googling "handgun" just now, I got 3,210,000 hits (subject to change). Googling "hangun" got me 18,100 hits, keeping in mind that some of these sites are Turkish and Hungarian (languages in which "hangun" must be a legitimate word). As I said, Google casts a wide net, but we can narrow down the search to English-only pages. Doing so gives us figures of 2,960,000 hits for "handgun" and 12,600 for "hangun".

Now, a search for "hangun -handgun", which is to say English sites that use "hangun" without also employing the correct spelling, nets us 742 hits, a 94 per cent drop from "hangun" alone. If "hangun" were actually entering the language as a variant based on pronunciation, I'd expect to see more sites in which "hangun" was employed without "handgun", which is to say a much smaller drop in the English-only "hangun -handgun" pages. The numbers are at least a little encouraging; they suggest that many people who use the spelling "hangun" have simply made a typo they didn't catch, and that it isn't entering the language in any significant way. And that the Times & Transcript could really use a decent proofreader.


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