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Adventures with autocomplete

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06/03/2010

Adventures with autocomplete photo

Autocomplete is a feature of search engines and other programs that guesses what you are searching for after you type in the first couple of letters. The guesses are based on the frequency of the searches among all users of the search engine. Used in reverse, one can see what the frequency is of search terms.

For instance, when they look up the word “Jew” or “Jewish” on Google, what are most people looking for?

JEW
Before I even typed a space, Autocomplete started guessing at what I wanted to search for. It suggested “jewelry” and “Jewel,” the grocery store.

The Jewish-related searches were for “Jewish holidays 2010” and “Jew jokes.” It might be safe to assume that mostly Jews are looking up when the Jewish holidays are. Well, I suppose HR departments and people who schedule conferences might need to know this information, too; with the year as one of the keywords, it seems clear they are looking up only when the holiday is, not what it celebrates.

As for “Jew jokes,” Jews certainly look up Jewish jokes. My dad is a big fan of the site Old Jews Telling Jokes, for instance. But really, Jews would look up “Jewish jokes,” no? I’m thinking anyone who looks up “Jew jokes” wants to laugh at Jews, not with us.

JEW (followed by a space)
First, again, the searches that turn out to have nothing to do with Jews. There is a fish called a “jewfish”; its native Australian name is the “dhu” fish, and people heard this as “Jew.” I could see why people would look that up, like they would, say, “Norman Jewison” or “Jerusalem artichokes.” (That film director is not Jewish; that plant is from New England.)

As for “Jew town Chicago”… I must say, I have lived and worked in Chicago’s Jewish community since 1994 and have never heard this expression. Chinatown, Little Italy, and Ukrainian Village, yes; Jewtown, no. Anyone know the way to… Jewtown? Should we look for a place with lots of people with a “Jewfro” hairstyle?

Again, “Jew jokes” is popular search. And I was surprised but not shocked to find JewTube, a parallel to YouTube. Speaking of Jewish jokes and videos, “Jew eat yet,” is a popular search. This is a line from Annie Hall, showing how Woody Allen’s character is overly sensitive to anti-Semitism, almost willfully mishearing the innocent question “Did you eat yet?”

Turns out, Woody might really have something there. Many Jews look up celebrities to see if they are Jewish, so the search “Jew or not Jew” is not necessarily troubling. But Jew Watch is. This is a virulently anti-Semitic website that catalogs the names of Jews of achievement in order to prove we are working together to take over the world or something. Hey, Jew Watch: If we Jews have been around for 4,000 years and haven’t taken over the world yet, you guys can probably let your guard down. Sadly, another popular search is for the Nazi propaganda film Jew Suss.

JEWS
The not-about-Jews entry this time is the “Jews harp,” a small, twangy instrument that somewhat resembles a Biblical harp; the name may also be a mispronunciation of “Jaw harp” as that is where you put it to play it.

Two of the Autocomplete findings are “Jews for Jesus” and “Jews killed Jesus,” so there you go. Perhaps someday, these people will realize that we Jews are, to borrow a phrase, just “not that into” Jesus, either way. An organization called Jews for Judaism, which helps deprogram Jews taken in by cults and missionaries, is also a popular search, thank goodness. But then that’s balanced, too, with the search “Jews against Zionism.”

Three of the findings are for “Jews in.” Specifically, “Jews in Hollywood,” “Jews in America,” and “Jews in Holocaust.” Just in case that last one was not clear enough, another popular search is “Jews killed in Holocaust.”

JEWISH
“Jokes,” again. And “holidays” again, but this time also “calendar.” That’s kind of nice— people wanting the whole calendar to really plan their year of upcoming Jewish days. And then people are looking up “Jewish religion,” which is fine. If people have questions, at least they are bothering to look up the answers.

One of the Top 10 most popular searches Autocomplete finds with “Jewish” is “Jewish United Fund,” which is very nice to see, as I work here. Another is Jewish Vocational Service, and while it is likely so popular because is it so necessary at the moment, we’re all grateful it’s there since it is needed so much.

JUDAISM
“Holidays,” yet again. Well, we do have a lot of them, and they don’t all fall on Mondays.

Also popular with this word are the keywords “beliefs,”  “facts,” and “symbols.” There are popular searches for both “Judaism history” and “Judaism today,” and even “Judaism afterlife.”

And “Judaism founder.” Um, that’s Abraham. This was a question?

“Judaism vs. Christianity” is here, too. Anyway, all perfectly welcome searches; let people find out, if they are curious.

All of these matters, as it happens, are addressed by Judaism 101, a wonderful— and quite comprehensive— intro-to-Judaism website.

JEWRY
Autocomplete again assumes I meant “jewelry.” But “Jewry” is a word. I’m not going to make you look it up, as the Wiktionary definition— itself a popular search— is short: “Jews in general; the Jewish population of a locale.”

Then Autocomplete found “Jewry church.” OK, I’ll bite… turns out there is a St Lawrence Jewry, which is not just any church but “the official Church of the Lord Mayor of London and of the City of London Corporation.” Why is it called that, you may ask? “St. Lawrence was first built in 1136 in the east end of London in the old Jewish quarter.”

CONCLUSIONS
What does the Jewish world look like, through the looking glass of Google? Why, it’s full of jokes and holidays!

Also, there is a desire to know what names are Jewish, and which people of power and popularity are Jewish— both to kvell in their achievements and to “watch” them (Yes, we must make sure that Steven Spielberg and Barbra Streisand don’t… take over the world.)

There is an ongoing concern over the relationship of Jews to Jesus; the idea that Judaism exists solely in opposition to other faiths is untrue and unfortunate… but understandable, given our perpetual minority-population status.

The other thing that struck me is the disconnect in the searches for “Jew” and “Jews”— as in people— versus “Judaism,” a religion in the abstract. The searches for Judaism were rather substantive, asking after “history” and “facts”… while the searches for “Jew” were somewhat frivolous (“Jewfro”?). But, in case anyone was wondering— yes, we do more between our “holidays” than sit around and tell “jokes.”

We look up more jokes online.

For more fun with Autocomplete, check out  Autocomplete Me , the site that inspired this trip into the mind of the Web and its users.

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