The other day, Anne Pier Salverda made me aware of the following strange co-incidence. While googling for “two women were having dinner” only yields a handful of hits (3 when I was performing the search today), the search for “two men were having dinner” yields tens of thousands of hits (about 220,000 when I performed the search). Let’s not ask why Anne Pier was searching for these strings to begin with ;), but it was curious, so I looked for more.
This does not seem to be driven by highly repeated mentions of only a few stories. Neither does it seem to be gender specific. Searches for “two x were having dinner”, where x is one of “boys”, “girls”, “guys” yield no or only a few hits.
So, is this really just a weird coincidence of this particular string “two men were having dinner”? Curiously, the same set of pattern in the present progressive yields the same asymmetry: “two men are having dinner” yielded about 185,000 hits, where as the other searches (“women”, “girls”, “boys”, “guys”) yielded no or only a handful of hits. The same asymmetry also holds for “two x have dinner”. Huh?!?
Then I had a closer look at these thousands of hits. You can do it yourself for any of the searchers (provided that Google hasn’t changed this already): As soon as you click to see any of the hits beyond page 1, Google suddenly claims that there are only about 40-50 hits (depending on the particular “Two men HAVE dinner” string used). These few hits in turn seem to come from only a few news sources. So, actually, all that seems to be going on is that there are a few more hits for the “men” examples — perfectly consistent with the fact that the internet (surprisingly) seems to talk more about “men” than “women” (a 10:7 when I last looked).
Great. Have you ever noticed anything comparable? Is this a bug? I just check bing.com and they seem to return the right count. What a sad day.