Saturday, June 26, 2010

Answer - Pennsylvania river names

As you know by now, looking up parts-of-words, like suffixes, isn't a "natural' operation on a search engine.  So you have to think a bit about what it is you're really searching for--is it a specific term, or a specific string in a role?  

This is especially interesting when searching for things like suffixes (such as, -KILL) that occur commonly on place names. 

I took the approach that Fred mentions in the comments to the Challenge.  My first search was: 

[ suffix kill ] 

Note that I did NOT prefix the "kill" by a minus sign (as I wrote in the challenge).  That will REMOVE all mentions of "kill" from the search results... which really is NOT what you want!  

The results page was pretty good with a couple of links to (a language compendium and discussion forum started by Gary Martin in 1997) and a link to the Wikipedia article on List of tautological place names.  

The Online Etymology Dictionary agrees:  "kill" as a suffix is derived from the Dutch kille, meaning river or riverbed, especially used in place names--Fishkill, Beaverkill, Catskill.  

So... I take three lessons from this challenge.  

First, describing the role is sometimes a useful strategy.  In this case, it was just adding the word "suffix" to my search.   

Second, knowing about certain resources (Online Etymology Dictionary) can be really handy.  Of course, if I add "etymology" to my query, then the Online Etymology Dictionary will appear in the top ten results.  (Check it out:  [ suffix kill etymology ] ) 

Three, looking at multiple sources looking for agreement (or disagreement) is just about the only way to be sure that you're finding a reliable version of the story.  In this case, we had complete agreement, so it was a slam dunk. 

Now... for extra credit... and foreshadowing... 

You should know that other languages have different ways of appending / inserting / prefixing words together.  The easiest example I can think of is the Spanish word "dimelo" (which means "tell it to me").  From an English-only speakers perspective, this is an interesting word as it combines three "words" into a single term.  "di"  (literally, "say" from the verb decir), "me" meaning "to me", and "lo" which means "it."  

Lots of languages do this kind of thing.  (Finnish is a particularly interesting example.  More on Finnish another day.)  But from the perspective of this Challenge, how would you search for a word/term that's buried in the middle of the word?  That is, suppose you find a common string that occurs frequently in the middle?  It's not a suffix... it's a... WHAT?  

We'll talk about this in another post--but the answer has to do with learning enough about your topic to be able to ask questions in a useful way.  Let's call it "just in time expertise" for the moment... and how to search for the information you need to become just enough of an expert to answer your burning questions.   

Search On! 


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