The year in review: 2017’s top failed searches
Here at Oxford Dictionaries, not only do we have the pleasure of seeing all the words that you look up on our site each day, but we are also able to see all the weird and wonderful things that you type into our search-bar which, for whatever reason, our site is stumped by. This data informs our work in a variety of ways, from providing our editors with potential new words for inclusion in our dictionaries, to giving us insight into common misspellings which might be worth highlighting elsewhere on our site.
In the wake of our Word of the Year 2017, and having already taken a look at the most frequent word look-ups of the year, we thought it might be fun to review the year’s most common search duds. No prizes for guessing which ‘word’ snags the top spot!
‘Covfefe’, a string of letters which mere months ago was utterly meaningless, outstripped all other failed searches by a country mile this year, after that fateful day in May when Donald Trump fumbled a late night tweet.
‘Covfefe’ has since gone on to spawn countless mugs, t-shirts, a license plate ban in one US state, and even the introduction of the ‘Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically for Engagement Act (COVFEFE Act)’ by Democratic congressman Mike Quigley, which, if enacted, would require all of the POTUS’ personal tweets to be preserved in the National Archives.
Generally accepted to have been a mistyping of coverage, ‘covfefe’ baffled and delighted the Internet in equal measure. Within an instant, the jokes and hot takes poured in, along with fervent discussion of the correct pronunciation of the term. Trump himself even tried to get in on the fun, when, five hours after the original message, Trump tweeted out:
Who can figure out the true meaning of “covfefe” ??? Enjoy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2017
But there was no getting round the fact that he was the subject of the joke; covfefe-gate was just the most extreme of a wealth of examples of the ‘unpresidented’, shall we say, social media habits of the current president of the United States.
But is ‘covfefe’ a word? Or might it be on its way there? There are numerous examples in English of words that have changed, or even produced entirely new words, by dint of mistakes made.
Syllabus is thought to have come about from a misreading of the Latin word ‘sittybas’ as it appeared in some early editions of Cicero’s Epistulae ad Atticum, and sneeze looks the way it does today thanks to frequent misprintings and misreadings of the original Middle English ‘fnese’ as ‘ſnese’, the now obsolete long ‘s’ character looking markedly similar to an ‘f’.
There’s also the more modern case of pwn, a common mistyping made by gamers of the word of own, which is now a word used in its own right to mean ‘utterly defeat’ or ‘completely get the better of’. As we tend to stress at every opportunity here at Oxford Dictionaries, language is always changing and adapting – and all words were ‘made-up’ at one time, right?
So what of the future of ‘covfefe’? We don’t expect that it will become synonymous with the word it was originally a stand-in for, coverage, but there’s no doubt that it’s been used both in speech and writing a great deal over the course of 2017. Whether bandied around in the office as a humorous alternative to ‘coffee’, or being used more self-referentially in a construction like ‘covfefe moment’, it seems the president’s gaffe is here to stay.
We’ll let you know as soon as we’ve sussed the definition, but for now, let’s just say it has definitely secured the title of Oxford Dictionaries Non-Word of the Year 2017.
You know what I could go for? pic.twitter.com/nGOOtmHI3k
— Covfefe (@covfefe) September 14, 2017
‘Covfefe’ aside, what our failed search reports usually flag up are genuine misspellings that trip people up when searching for a word’s definition – or perhaps they’re just typing it in to check the spelling in question.
Amongst the big-hitters are variants of accommodate, separate, and occurrence. With this in mind, we thought we’d end this post with a little quiz – but don’t panic! It’s not a spelling test. Quite the opposite, in fact…