Friday, February 3, 2012

Search strategy #1: Synecdoche (finding a part in place of the whole)

Synecdoche: a term referring to a part of something to stand in for the whole thing. 

It's a slightly scary word that you might remember from your linguistics class.  It's when you refer to a part of something in place of the whole thing--say, "I need a ranch hand down here to round up these cattle."  In this sentence, the word hand refers to a person (a cowboy) by using just a part of a whole person.  

What's this got to do with search strategies? 

Simple.  Sometimes it's a great idea to NOT try and find the whole thing that you can't recall, but to find a "piece of the whole thing" because it's simpler to find, or it's more popular, or you can't figure out what the whole thing is called.  

Example:  Suppose you're trying to figure out something about one of the boroughs of New York City.  Oddly enough, you can't remember the name of the borough, just that it has a famous roller coaster called (you think!) the "Cyclone."  That's enough information to figure out the borough pretty quickly: 

The query [
roller coaster Cyclone ] quickly shows you that it's in Coney Island.  Great!  That actually was the name of the roller coaster.  Now, where's Coney Island?

 (Apologies to my New York friends...  I'm writing this from the point-of-view of someone who doesn't know the map of NYC intimately...)  

Another query for [ Coney Island borough ] and you'll find out that it's in Brooklyn, and you're set.  

This is the funny thing about human memory--it often can surface small details that would seem insignificant, but can be useful clues when searching.  

As a search strategy, synecdoche is done whenever you can remember a part of the whole.  You then work upwards (towards higher levels of abstraction) from that piece. 

Real Example:  A friend wanted to know "what's the name of that cloud-services company in the UK that's got something to do with the ring of little petals at the back of the flower?"  

I know, I know... I get a lot of really strange search requests.  But this one is a great example of synecdoche in action.  

I already knew that "little petals at the back of the flower" were called "sepals."  Okay.  How can we work with this?  

I changed this question into "What's the name of the structure made up of sepals at the back of the flower?" A quick search on [ sepals structure ] tells me that this is called a "calyx."  

Using this as my new search term, a quick [ calyx cloud ] search takes me right to the web site that's desired.  

It's a nice example of using synecdoche as a search strategy to get to where you want to go. 

Search on... upwards on the abstraction hierarchy! 

No comments:

Post a Comment