A Cautionary Tale by Mary Jackson (Originally published May 2006)


“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)


There are many English names containing the word “bottom”. There is Pratts Bottom in Kent, Tikli Bottom in India and Ramsbottom in Lancashire. This last is a very pretty town, which has kept its name despite efforts by some of the locals to change it to a more decorous Ramsdale. Ramsbottom is a unified whole, and not, as some have suggested, divided into Lower and Upper Ramsbottom. In addition to place names, there are surnames: Sidebottom, Winterbottom, Shipperbottom and Longbottom.


There is nothing remotely funny about these names.


That said, coming across the name Longbottom in the local paper the other day, I was struck by the thought that, while somebody given to puerile jokes might find this name amusing in itself, a more sophisticated person might wish to use it in a bilingual pun: if someone called, say, Arthur Longbottom – known to friends and family as “Art” – died young, he could have on his tombstone the epitaph “Ars longa, vita brevis”. What a good joke that would be, I thought to myself, feeling very clever.


Not for long. I googled Longbottom, and the Latin phrase, and it turned up around ten occurrences of this “original” joke, including, by way of consolation prize, a Willie, a John and a Thomas Longbottom. There is nothing new under the sun.


So my joke was not original. Nevertheless, I did originate it. It’s just that others got there first. I wondered whether there is a name for this kind of thing, specifically in the context of Google. If not, permit me to invent one – the Google-thwart.


“Google-thwart” is the realisation that you are not as clever as you thought you were, and that minds far greater than yours, and sometimes an embarrassingly large number of them, have got there first.


Alas, it seems that I am destined to be google-thwarted at every opportunity. Saddened and exhausted after the Latin-for-Longbottom debacle, I started what I thought was quite a good poem:


My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense

As though of cider I had drunk


Better check, I thought. No point in going on with this if some cheeky so-and-so has done it already. Wearily I put my words into Google, and guess what? Rotten old Keats had written the exact same lines except for one word. And even that one word was better in his version, hemlock being a more poetic-sounding drink than cider.


Clearly, poetry was not going to be a field in which I could demonstrate any originality. So I decided to try physics, and came up with what I thought was quite a neat equation concerning matter and energy:


E= MC3


Yet again, Google revealed that I had been pipped to the post. Somebody called Einstein has thought up something very similar. My version was out by just one number, and a small one at that. It doesn’t seem fair, somehow.


Sadly it seems that I am destined not to have any original thoughts at all, and must confine myself to lamenting my condition on a website.


Update: I cut and pasted this whole piece into Google “exact phrase match”, and hundreds of people have done it.

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Mary Jackson contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click here to see all her contributions, on which comments are welcome.


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