Wednesday, August 31, 2022

SearchResearch Challenge (8/31/22): How can you find answers to those mysterious and inarticulable questions you might have?

 Our world is full of mystery... 

DALL-E, "thinking hard in the style of Picasso"

.. and everyday I find myself thinking about some question or another that pokes at my curiosity.  Often, this makes me do some searching with the result that some number of these questions appear in SearchResearch!

As you've probably noticed, not all questions are clear, crisp, and simple to articulate.  Sometimes you need to figure out how to move from an inarticulate sense of a question to something that you can say aloud.  

This step--the conversion from an internal wondering to an externalizable question-about-the-world is often tricky.  Sometimes we internally censor ourselves before letting the transformation happen, sometimes thinking that this question is too dumb or that I can't figure out how to ask this thing... 

I've seen this happen with students: they get caught up in something, but don't quite have the language to pursue the thread of interestingness, and so they drop it.  

But SRS exists to help get you out of your internal stuckedness and express your inner, curious child!  

So today's Challenge has a few of these questions that occurred to me over the past week or so.  

The Challenge for us is to figure out how to overcome our lack of language (that is, our inarticulateness), get past this and pursue a search strategy to get some answers.  

1. When I wake up in the middle of the night, my head sometimes feels "fuzzy" or somehow strange and different--a little as though my brain isn't working quite right. I assume that this happens to everyone. If I stay up for a while, it goes away.  And of course, when I awaken properly (at a reasonable time), I don't have this feeling at all.  Challenge:  What is this feeling called?  Is there even a term for it? Does it really happen to everyone?  (Really, does it happen to you too?)  

2. I remember reading a paper many years ago about the psychology behind why people often can't talk very accurately about why they did something.  This comes up most often in psychology studies when people are asked "why did you do that?" and ask for an explanation.  People will give explanations about why they did something, but they're often not very accurate.  Challenge:  What is this effect called?  Can you find a scholarly article about why people are so bad at giving such explanations?  

3.  I know the word "colleen" is often used to refer to an Irish woman: for instance,"she's a lovely colleen".  Likewise, "shelia" is used in Australian English as a synonym for a woman, while in American English "jane" or "john" (Jane Doe, John Doe) often refers to a generic person.  Challenge: Is there a term for this idea, that some names are used as generic signifiers of categories of people?  Are there other names that are used in this way in English?  (Say, Indian English or Nigerian English.)  

For this suite of Challenges, I'm interested in your answers.. but I'm REALLY interested in how you got from "vague idea" (or at least the "vague scribblings of Dan") to something that you could use in an online search. Can you talk about the process you went through?  (And yes, I'm aware of the irony of asking this given Challenge #2 above... still, we have to try!)  

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below. 

Search on! 


  1. In question 3, I can speak to only the use of the word “colleen”. In the official language of the Republic of Ireland, the word for girl is “cailín”. To me, it is more of a translation, likely to be used by those familiar with the Irish language, than a synonym.

    1. Interesting point. Didn't know this ("cailín") in Irish. Oddly, it's pronounced "kay-lin" rather than "call-een"!

    2. I'm not sure where you got your info. I have always hear that word pronounced more like "coll-een". so I consulted my Irish friend Brendan who is fluent in the language:

      Do léitheoir: An American told me that the Irish word "cailin" was pronounced "kay-lin" while I thought it was more like "coll-een". Which is correct?

      Brendan: You are of course.

    3. Always happy to be proven wrong! The site: agrees with you ("call-een"), but there are several sites that gave me the "kay-lin" pronunciation. I checked a bunch, and they all agreed. I should have looked at Forvo (since they feature audio samples of native speakers.) In cases like this, native speakers have the last word. Thanks for clarifying this!

  2. If I wake during the night, I don't think I have the fuzzy brain experience that you do. But I do wonder about similar things--why my energy and ambition levels vary through the day--is there a way to keep them higher?--and why arguably unnecessary habits (like a crossword or Sudoku in the evening ) seem so useful.

    1. Interesting. I do wonder if my "fuzzy brain" experience is just me, or more general. Oddly, I'm not sure I remember this from when I was much younger. Is this an age-related effect?

  3. "A little learning is a dangerous thing;
    drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
    there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
    and drinking largely sobers us again." A, Pope

    "A little learning is a dangerous thing;
    drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
    there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
    and drinking largely sobers us again." A, Pope

    DALL·E: Introducing Outpainting
    Sleep Inertia
    ah, gibberish… but I no not how to make sounds about such…
    je ne sais quois
    used part of your query…
    Aphasia & Dysarthria

    list: trying a mod to your query - not limited by gender
    Colleen, Coleen – Lena, Sheila, Jane – Janie, Janey, Jenny, Jennie, Jen, Janet
    mama put - generic name for the Nigerian female food vendors
    shelia - Irish roots
    btw, imho… but not awful
    not fair to Pablo

    1. Your query about sleep, [ what is the feeling of groggyness called ] is a good one. That's a nice approach. The aphasia result is pointing you in totally the wrong direction, however. Productive aphasia is an inability to put words together, usually as a result of a stroke. We're looking for difficulty in articulating a complex / nebulous / vague concept.

  4. Replies
    1. You've got it - your complexity meltdown query [ difficulty in articulating a complex / nebulous / vague concept. ] is the issue. The word "nebulosity" is new to me, and a perfect one for this discussion.

  5. Question 3 relates to the Master's degree I'm working on (MA TESOL) and also to my chosen field, so I decided to look into it.

    Dan brought up an interesting point about the use of individuals' names to refer to groups, so I did more searches, to find other terms for women in different English language dialects. And, I found a few, including Bonnie (Scotland), Karen (U.S.), and Becky (U.S.). So, it became apparent to me that this was related to some linguistics phenomenon, and that there was a term for it.

    By doing another search, I found at an online forum ( that it was referred to as an eponymous adjective. And, I had my answer.

    But, I decided to double-check, and found that that wasn't quite correct. I next looked up the word "epithet," since another source I read ( indicated that that's what it was for at least one name (Becky). But, I found out through visiting both Literary Devices ( and Wikipedia ( that that was actually a fancy word for a nickname (e.g. Gandalf the Gray, Ivan the Terrible). So, I ruled it out.

    On a hunch, I looked up the use of a person's name as a slang term. And, by looking at various SERPs, I found that that's what it was. I still wanted to verify it, so I did some searches for slang terms for men and women--and I found some that were individuals' names, including ones at Wikipedia (though others in those lists were NSFW).

    So, based on the research I did, I would say that the answer to Dan's question is that using a person's name for a group would be a slang term. And, there are a number of examples I found, such as Karen, Kyle, Ken, Bonnie, and Einstein, among others.

    Of course, the reason each of those words were used would depend on their own etymology, which would require looking them up.

    1. Nice. Thanks for the additional terms! I agree "eponymous adjective" isn't quite right, but it's in an interesting direction.

    2. I should have thought of "karen." That's a perfect example.

  6. For Q1, still not sure what you mean exactly. Thinking how I feel (if it's the same) ,when I wake up in the middle. It's something that if I stay up sleepy feeling goes and it's almost impossible to get sleep again.

    For Q3, thought about Jhon and Jane Doe. And how those names are used as a generic or unknown name.

    The other names were new to me.

    Searched [Colleen Ireland] to read how and why of that name.

    From Wikipedia. It's more used in America...from the Irish cailín 'girl/woman', the diminutive of caile 'woman, countrywoman.

    With [similar to colleen Ireland] Quora mentions possible why that name and mentions Buchaill for boys.

    Wordsense says that Coleen was a product of marketing by the Hollywood film industry

    Searched [Colleen John Doe Jane Doe]

    Wikipedia article John Doe. Links to Placeholder name (1960 Kadigan.) It also says other names used

    I'll keep reading and SRS

    1. With [name feeling sleepy when awakening midnight]

      Sleep inertia. Already mentioned by Remmij.

      *First 3 Minutes Are Rough as the Brain Powers Up, Small Study Shows

      Some of the most common sleep disorders include:

      Parasomnias and in those :Confusion arousal - waking up confused or disoriented; sometimes called "sleep drunkenness."

      In the Wikipedia article about placeholder names, mentions also this:Hypernyms (words for generic categories; e.g., "flower" for tulips and roses)

      Hyponymy and hypernymy

    2. Really interesting. "Sleep inertia" (as pointed out by remmij) is a fascinating concept. I'm not sure I have "sleep drunkenness," but maybe "sleep slowness."

      Hyponyms and hypernyms form what computer scientists (like me) call an "is-a" hierarchy. Dan is-a human, and human isa-a animal. Now we just need the hypernym for person-names-used-as-group-names (or something like that).

    3. brain fog supposedly can be associated to long covid, but not sure if it plugs into the waking-after-sleep mode -
      although fatigue is tied to LC also…
      regarding "Karen" - isn't that more related to a certain characteristic and not so much a general term applied to females -
      especially in the U.S.?
      term seems to be morphing - although I am partial to the 'Googfellas' origin - to include a certain look now?
      brain fog or cranial cloudness - maybe noggin' noodlin' numptyism…
      foggy brain - perhaps it afflicts Foggy Bottom too?
      have you ever probed Foggy Bottom during one of your visits?
      maybe it is all tied to conceptual sleep indigestion, minus the collywobbles?

    4. @ mateojose1, agreed - any term/nickname, like Karen, et al., is open to sexism, racism, numpty charges/accusations… what was Dan thinking?
      that would have put a different spin on it…almost can hear: '…Like a Karen arrested for the very first time'
      like a geriatric one…

    5. I was thinking about the Q1 and tried [moment when you are half awake half sleep]

      Alpha waves and these. I don't think they are what we are looking for

      Hypnagogia and Its opposite state is described as hypnopompic

  7. First question

    I did a web search using the query "waking up in the middle of the night feeling a bit out of it," and looked at the SERP. I saw two promising terms ("sleep inertia" and "sleep drunkenness"), so I started with "sleep inertia."

    One source from the Sleep Foundation ( defined it as the sensation of disorientation, impaired cognition, and grogginess that accompanies waking up, stated that it's common in people whose sleep schedules are not consistent, and that it can be treated through naps, caffeine, and trying to align personal schedules with the sun. A paper at the National Library of Medicine ( confirmed this.

    I wanted to check the other term, so I read about sleep drunkenness at Healthline ( And, that entry stated that it involved feeling tense, confused, or aggressive upon waking. Too, it indicated that sleep inertia is a part of the natural process of waking up. I then did a search for "sleep inertia," found another Healthline entry (, and found that it involved feeling disoriented and tired, that it tends to not last that long but can last for hours in some people, and that severe kinds of it could result in sleep drunkenness.

    So, I had my answer: The name for the phenomenon Dan described appears to be "sleep inertia."


    Second question

    I first looked this up and found a couple of medical conditions stemming from (aphasia and dysarthria), along with how it can be a result of introversion or ADHD. But, none of those seemed right, since it's common.

    I did other searches, read other sites, and found out about the concepts "word retrieval" and "tip-of-the-tongue," both of which which seemed promising. But, I learned that they dealt with trying to remember a single word or term, which wasn't the answer I was looking for.

    I was at a dead end, so I copied Dan's question into the search bar and searched. By looking at Google's "people also ask" feature, I learned about the term "cluttering." However, I found out by doing another search that it was another medical condition--meaning I was at another dead end.

    I next looked up "stumbling over words," with various science-related sites I'd found trustworthy. And, in an article at Live Science (, I found the term "language disfluencies." I looked it up, read the Wikipedia entry on "speech disfluency" (, and did a search for that (and looked at the SERP), to check. And, by doing all that, I found that what Dan was asking about was known as "speech disfluency," or, simply, "disfluency."

    Finally, I searched for a paper on this. And, by using the term "speech disfluency causes scientific paper," I found one ( that explained speech fluency (including what's behind it), types of disfluencies and what causes them, and disfluency due to stuttering.

  8. Question 1

    I began with [ what is grogginess ]. On the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) was a link to this article on WebMD

    That gave me [ sleep inertia ] to search. This article was in the SERP

    “For this review, PubMed was searched for “sleep inertia”, “sleep drunkenness”, “sleep-wake transition”, “sleep-wake transitions”, “wake up”, “wake-up”, “waking up”, “waking-up”, “awaken”, “awakening”, “neural inertia”, “sleep offset”, and “sleep-offset”. The former two terms were also queried at Reference lists were reviewed to identify additional manuscripts.”

    Just below that they include “Assessment of subjective sleep inertia at the population level suggests that difficulty awakening is a common experience.”

    It is a long article, but it does seem to cover a long range of grogginess from that pull to just rollover and go back to sleep to brain fog of forgetting to put a coffee cup under the brewer. ;-)

    Question 2

    I began with your wording ["why did you do that?" psychology] and progressed with different variations

    ["why did I do that?" psychology}

    [answering "why did I do that?" psychology]

    ["answering" "why did I do that?" psychology]

    [accuracy in describing self actions psychology] On this SERP was an open textbook chapter Here I leaned into the complexities of self conceptualization and self actualization. This is where I decided I needed to step away and ruminate to to see if I could find a direction.

  9. Question 2 (cont.)
    As I was writing my previous response I was listening to a podcast, Hidden Brain. I went to their website and searched [actions]

    The episode that caught my eye was “The Halo Effect”
    “...And we ask, is it possible to fairly evaluate our past actions when we know how things turned out?”

    I’d heard that episode a couple of times so I reviewed the transcript. It wasn’t until the very end that they just briefly mention The Halo Effect, but it seems to fit.
    “This halo effect really is very deep and profound and hard to shake. Right? We think we're evaluating a process that led to some outcome. But really, we're just reflecting the outcome itself. And this really gets in the way of evaluating processes.”

    Googled [“halo effect”]
    The SERP seems to only point to our perception of others in a positive way, but then I see under the result with a link to the Wikipedia article on halo effect, the headings for parts of the article “The reverse halo effect”
    Nope, but it got me far enough down the page to SEE ALSO

    There it was - List of Cognitive Biases
    Answer: Could it be that our inability to accurately give a reason for our actions is cognitive bias?

    Side note: When retracing my steps I did see this episode from Hidden Brain as well, “You 2.0: How To See Yourself Clearly”
    “Psychologist Tim Wilson says introspection only gets us so far, and that we often make important decisions in life and love for reasons we don’t even realize.”
    This episode included additional resources and this one caught my eye - “Thinking too much: Introspection can reduce the quality of preferences and decisions.”
    If I’m reading the abstract correctly, analyzing or self-reflecting on our reasoning for an action increases a cognitive bias.
    (I know, I know, big leap there just on an abstract.)

    1. Love your analysis here. You were right to step away after getting to that potential rat hole. I'm also impressed that you ended up in the psych literature and found a good article by Tim Wilson (who is, as you can see in my answer) the second author of the paper I was actually looking for. The important thing there was "...we make decisions for reasons we don't even realize." So, I'd say you did an outstanding job of SRS--better than me!

      BTW - you note that the Rice article is paywalled. The best workaround for that is to search for the paper in Google Scholar and check if there's an open source link to a copy of the paper. There is! You can read it at "Thinking too much..."