This blog will never die. It will never die because of this post. Written in, I think, in about 15 minutes this post was just a quick thing to share a new tool that I was (and still am) really excited about. And I’m not the only one.
So I never expected that this post would have more legs than any other post I’ve ever made – it doesn’t have the highest hit count, but of all of the posts on this blog it is the tortoise-est one. Every day it picks up one or two or three views.
Unfortunately, those views come from people who are looking for something else. Well, I shouldn’t say “unfortunately.” I suspect a decent number of those people have never seen Wordle, and think it’s pretty cool. So it’s cool by extension that they see that post here. But they come here looking for (and this is almost always the exact wording of the search, it’s weird) – “words that mean pretty.” So, they want synonyms for the word pretty. I’m thinking that they know what pretty means, and that they want some other words that mean that same thing.
So there are a couple of information literacy issues here, right? The first, and probably most obvious, is that entering keywords into a search engine is not the best way to answer this particular question. There are better tools out there.
Information Literacy issue #1
Using Google, the Wordle post comes up #8 on the result list for the words that mean pretty search right now. So I assume that this is where most of the hits are coming from. It doesn’t appear on Yahoo (though there is a result about “how do I increase my dog’s understanding of words” which I find really intriguing). Anyway, sometimes it’s a little higher on the Google list, sometimes a little lower. Always on the first page. The reason why people click on it is clear – most of the other results are obviously not relevant. We have:
#6 is a link to the lyrics to Dirty Pretty Words.
#7 – we finally get a result that might work. It’s a WikiAnswers question that just says – “words that have pretty much the same meaning.” But the description says “other words for pretty, same meaning as pretty” and so forth. But when you click through to the page, you don’t see those questions. Instead, you find out that the initial question was looking for a definition of the word “synonym.” Still, asking the question on WikiAnswers would probably work.
And then my post at #8. Not that I really have to convince anyone who reads this blog that a search engine isn’t the place to find synonyms and antonyms. So the first information literacy issue is a tool issue – there are things called thesauri and they can be really useful! Check them out.
Information Literacy issue the second
Which connects to the more subtle information literacy issue here. Which goes beyond how search engines aren’t a great starting point when you’re trying to find or generate synonyms – to finding and generating synonyms is a pretty fundamental part of effective keyword searching in search engines. If you understand how keyword searching works, you know that the search words that mean pretty will bring back anything with the disconnected terms words, mean and pretty. Which as the result list above indicates, is a whole lot of stuff you’re not interested in, including a random blog post about Wordle. So when you get that result list, if you know how keyword searching works, you can troubleshoot that search and say “hey, I think I need a more specific term to get at the concept words that mean.” If you’re really savvy at that point you might get the word “synonyms” from the WikiAnswers result and re-search using the terms synonyms and pretty. That search works – you get result after result listing other words that mean the same thing as “pretty” does.
But here’s the thing – a lot of people don’t know how keyword searching works, in search engines or elsewhere. Or they maybe kind of know, but they don’t really think about it. And they don’t know how to troubleshoot that first failed search, or to find synonyms that will work better. So I went looking – what would work better? Because, as it happens, I’m working on a new keyword assignment – that I started talking about a few days ago, and that Sara talked about here – for beginning composition that will try to get at some of these issues about keywords and how they connect to critical reading, writing, thinking, as well as searching.
So, if you are wondering where you can find some information about other words that mean pretty – check these out:
Lexipedia: Where Words Have Meaning: This one is interesting – it is based on the WordNet project at Princeton, and it creates, fairly quickly, cool webs of related words — synonyms, antonyms, fuzzynyms and more. The webs are color coded so that you can glance at them and know that synonyms are olive green and antonyms are dark red. The site looks a little bit messy, and it is hard to find. While it has the domain “lexipedia.com” – a search on “lexipedia” brings back a lot of references to another project, about Wikipedia and handhelds. Still, this one works pretty fast, provides a lot of terms that might be useful, and I like the glanceability of it.
Similar to this is Visuwords – an online graphical dictionary. This one is prettier, but the resulting display isn’t as complete, and I’m not sure as a tool for finding additional terms and synonyms it would be more useful
And for the more textually oriented, there’s Definr, that also uses the WordNet project data. Interestingly, it’s main selling point seems to be speed. And it does define words really, really fast. Not surprisingly, given the source data, it also provides some synonyms and related terms.
Both definr and lexipedia are user interfaces on top of the data generated by WordNet at Princeton. This project, which groups words into “sets of cognitive synonyms” has about a million related projects listed on its website. And the idea of cognitive synonyms is interesting, right? For thinking about connecting terms to concepts and troubleshooting searches?
And now, as a bonus librarian answer – according to the OED, the first definition of the word pretty (adj.) is “cunning,” “crafty” (originally), and “clever,” “skillful” or “able” (later). It was first used in this way in 1450. “Aesthetically pleasing” is the second meaning, and it was first used this way about 10 years earlier.
“Sitting pretty” dates back to 1915, in Lincoln, Nebraska and “pretty please” dates back to 1891.