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This speaks for itself, I think — the first referral from the new Cuil search engine that I've noticed in our referrer logs:

(Click on the image for a larger version.)

Well, OK, I'll indulge in one comment, which is that I clearly need to look more closely into why "Marvel Comics Supervillains" is an ontological subcategory of "Intensifiers". That makes a weird kind of sense, though I wouldn't have thought of it myself. Or is there a particular supervillain that I've missed, The Intensifier? A quick web search turns up some devices (the "mento-intensifer ring", the "psycho-intensifier", etc.) but no villains as such.

When I look at the second referral from the logs, I find some other strange things, e.g.

("Semitic guess" is a phrase in Browning's "Easter Day", which Geoff Nunberg asked about back in 2004. So that's why it's actually sensible that someone might be searching for it, and why it's sensible for them to find a Language Log post in the results. But in fact the phrase "semitic guess" doesn't occur in the 1953 Senate Committee Hearings transcript, nor in the Wikipedia article on J.R.R. Tolkien, so those hits are a bit of a puzzle.

And — following a chain of associations from the LL post that shows up on that last Cuil page — I'm happy to see that even though Language Log is no longer #1 for stupid ideas in Google's index, we're still #1 for butt-stupid ideas.)

[In the comments, Soap asked about the asserted etymology ("Cuil is an old Irish word for knowledge. For knowledge, ask Cuil,").

I asked Jim McCloskey, and he responded:

I certainly don't know the word and it's not in any dictionary I have easily to hand.

There are two words `cuil' that I know. One means `enmity' or `bad attitude' or `resentment', as in

cuil aige liom
is resentment at-him with-me
"He's angry with me/resents me/has it in for me."

The other means `fly'.

But maybe it's some Old or Middle Irish word — I'd have to check the Royal Irish Academy dictionary for that.

More on this as it develops… e.g. here]


  1. Search Engining | Porch Dog said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 8:33 am

    […] a minor complaint, but I've only played with the site for a minute. Language Log posts a couple of…less than stellar search […]

    [(myl): Luck of the draw — those are first two that showed up in our referrer logs…]

  2. Emma said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 8:58 am

    I decided to "vanity Cuil" myself last night and noticed that all my (very few) results, consisting of journal articles and institutional pages, had pictures of my namesake, Arsenal and Ireland goalie Emma Byrne attached. I have no problem with that – she's a fine player – but she might be upset at being linked to some of my second rate publications!

  3. Bob said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 9:39 am

    In the Senate hearing transcript, the words "semitic" and "guess" do at least appear, albeit separately.
    But in the Tolkien article, "semitic" appears but "guess" does not. Strange, indeed.

  4. Soap said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 11:17 am

    I feel really bad about Cuil … such a good idea, such a terrible first-day performance. Since this is Language Log, I wonder if anyone has anything to say about the etymology of the name. The site claims that it takes its name from an Irish Gaelic word for both "knowledge" and "hazel", but many people around the Internet have disputed that claim and on Wikipedia at Talk:Cuil the best that can be made of it seems to be that there was a legendary character in Irish mythology named MacCumhaill who divined the answers to questions by sucking his thumb, a bit ironic since the useless thumbnail pictures that appear on each Cuil search suck up 3/4 of their bandwidth; and that there is a word coll which means hazel. But no, cuil itself means "bug", and cúil means "corner", or so the consensus seems to be.

  5. Ray Girvan said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 11:50 am

    It looks to me as if it just doesn't recognise quotes and, in Google terms, treats "semitic guess" as semitic guess. As the Tolkien hit is at Wikipedia, "guess" might well have been on the incarnation of the page at the time it was indexed.

  6. Fran said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 12:32 pm

    Could be that 'guess' has since been edited out of the Tolkien article, but it does seem that Cuil's isn't yet ideal. Searching 'cuil' in Cuil doesn't even return a link to the website.

  7. Excursus : Cuil Not So Cool said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 12:38 pm

    […] Here is the BBC's take, and Language Log's. Posted by Mark Eli Kalderon on Tuesday, July 29, 2008, at 5:38 pm. Filed under search. […]

  8. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 2:39 pm

    Well, cuil is a possible descendent of the nahuatl word cuitlatl ("excrement"), which has a variant cuitl in possessives, but as amusing as it is, I doubt it is accurate (and I can't guarantee the evolution is in any way accurate).

  9. Peter Howard said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 2:54 pm

    Like Emma, I did a vanity search and found that the pictures attached to results that pertained to me were often of some other Peter Howard. Well, someone else, anyway. But both Emma and I were relatively lucky: The Register has an item where some poor chap has a porn photo attached to his page listing: Ex-Googlers reinvent web search. Important: El Reg labels this NSFW (not safe for work) so don't go there unless you really, really want to! Dr. Jonathan Grattage (whose site is the one affected) seems to have taken it in good part. But I can imagine that others similarly misrepresented might start reaching for their lawyers.

  10. rone said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 3:51 pm

    I don't think of it as "Cuil" so much as "Cul", because that's what its performance makes me think of.

  11. mary said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 4:03 pm

    their old website was and cuill does mean hazel and knowledge.

    So they dropped an L – maybe to help people pronounce it?

  12. TootsNYC said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 5:43 pm

    how would dropping an L help people pronounce the word more easily, or more accurately?

  13. goofy said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 6:06 pm

    Mary, please provide a citation showing that the word means "hazel" and "knowledge".

  14. dr pepper said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 7:32 pm

    I looked up myself and found mostly my entries in Library Thing, each book accompanied by a picture that had nothing to do with it, in spite of the fact that each entry has a link to a bookcover.

    This site must be culled from any list of serious research tools.

  15. Ginevra Figg said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 7:39 pm

    Cuil is definitely going for it, but it's hard to imagine them doing anything but incremental changes to what Google's done. And even that would take years of effort. has taken a different tack. We have a full web index, but we change the results based on the surfing activity of our user base (now over 2,000,000). It's in alpha, but I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.

  16. Jeffrey Kegler said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 12:54 am's FAQ #4 ( addresses the source of their name: Here's part of it: "Tom Costello, our founder and CEO, comes from Ireland, a country with a rich mythology around the quest for wisdom. Cuil is the Gaelic word for both knowledge and hazel, and features prominently in ancient legend."

    Their FAQ might be taken as authoritative for documenting what they thought "cuil" means, but does not give any references. Isn't there lots of precedent for a word to have two different etymologies, one fictional, but intended and accepted by most speakers, and one actual? In English, "OK" comes to mind, as well as the word "island".

  17. Nick Z said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 5:38 am

    According to the "Dictionary of the Irish Language. Based Mainly on Old and Middle Irish Materials" (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy), in Old and Middle Irish there was a word coll "hazel-tree; 3rd letter of the alphabet". I don't know if this would become cuil(l) in Modern Irish; it appears as cuill only in the genitive singular in O and MIr (as expected for an o-stem noun).

    There is no word cuill.

    I couldn't find any words of a similar shape meaning "knowledge". cuil means "fly" (the insect). cuil, with a long -u-, means "corner, recess". cul, with a long -u-, means "back, rear". col means "wrong, infringement, violation; incest".

    I also searched English meanings at eDIL ( for "knowledge" without finding anything likely.

    At least in Old and Middle Irish, there doesn't seem to have been a word cuil(l) "knowledge".

  18. Karlonia - Cuil Search Engine said,

    August 4, 2008 @ 4:57 am

    Apparently Cuil was not quite ready for launch during the first day or two – many medium long tail queries did not return results at all, and even general queries returned way fewer results than they should have considering Cuil's claims of having indexed so many pages already. They did improve somewhat afterward, however, and seem to be picking up more results and increasing relevance as more people have been testing out the engine.

    In the long run, I hope they get things together and perform well enough to compete with the major search engines and then maybe do some advertising. I would like to see more serious competitors to Google in order to hold their power in check and encourage more transparency overall.

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