1.3. Full-Word Wildcards
Some search engines support a technique called
Stemming is adding
character—usually * (asterisk) but sometimes
? (question mark)—to part of your query,
requesting the search engine return variants of that query using the
wildcard as a placeholder for the rest of the word at hand. For
example, moon* would find moons, moonlight,
Google doesn't support explicit stemming. It
didn't used to support stemming at all, but now it
implicitly stems for you. So, dietary will yield
results for diet, diets, and other variations on the theme.
Google does offer a full-word wildcard. While you
can't have a wildcard stand in for part of a word,
you can insert a wildcard (Google's wildcard
character is *) into a phrase and have the
wildcard act as a substitute for one full word. Searching for
mice", therefore, finds three blind mice, three
blue mice, three green mice, etc.
What good is the full-word wildcard? It's certainly
not as useful as stemming, but then again, it's not
as confusing to the beginner. One * is a stand-in
for one word; two * signifies two words, and so
on. The full-word wildcard comes in handy in the following
Avoiding the 10-word limit (see "The 10-Word
Limit" next) on Google queries.
You'll most frequently run into these examples when
you're trying to find song lyrics or a quote.
Plugging the phrase Fourscore and seven years ago, our
fathers brought forth on this continent into Google will
search only as far as the word
"on"; everything thereafter is
summarily ignored by Google.
Checking the frequency of certain phrases and derivatives of phrases,
such as: intitle:"methinks the
much" and intitle:
"the * of
Seville" (intitle: is described
later in "Special Syntax").
Filling in the blanks on a fitful memory. Perhaps you remember only a
short string of song lyrics; search using only what you remember
rather than randomly reconstructed full lines.
Let's take as an example the disco anthem
"Good Times" by Chic. Consider the
following line: "You silly fool, you
can't change your fate."
Perhaps you've heard that lyric, but you
can't remember if the word
"fool" is correct or if
it's something else. If you're
wrong (if the correct line is, for example, "You
silly child, you can't change your
fate"), your search will find no results and
you'll come away with the sad conclusion that no one
on the Internet has bothered to post lyrics to Chic songs.
The solution is to run the query with a wildcard in place of the
unknown word, like so:
"You silly *, you can't change your fate"
You can use this technique for quotes, song lyrics, poetry, and more.
You should be mindful, however, to include enough of the quote to
find unique results. Searching for "you
* fool" will glean you far too
many irrelevant hits.