"A detergent used to assist in boredom"

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A new kind of Artificial non-Intelligence? A subversive easter egg of human origin? I'm not sure, but in the course of researching preposition usage, I discovered an odd result of Google searches for terms in various languages for dish soap — a panel (in English), attributed to Wikipedia, explaining that

Dishwashing liquid, known as dishwashing soap, dish detergent and dish soap, is a detergent used to assist in boredom.

A bigger screen shot:

More later on the prepositions — meanwhile, any ideas about the boredom?


  1. Ambarish Sridharanarayanan said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 9:26 am

    Looks like some good old vandalism by an anonymous user:


    Which was reverted in a little more than 5 hours' time, but not quickly enough for the Google crawler, I guess.


  2. Jake Wildstrom said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 9:29 am

    It's a real quote from the last-but-one version of the Wikipedia article. Vandalism, probably.

  3. Dave said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 9:31 am

    If you look at the Wikipedia page history for dish soap, you'll see that for about 5 hours, 3 days ago, someone had prank added boredom. Google must have picked that up and hasn't noticed that it got reverted.

  4. Jake Wildstrom said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 9:33 am

    (A week earlier, the same IP address unambiguously vandalized a different Wikipedia page, and that's the only other edit from that IP, so smart money is on conscious vandalism rather than a bot running amok.)

  5. Laura Morland said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 9:36 am

    Ha! Wikipedia vandalism… by someone whose boredom wasn't satiated by soap?

    Small correction to your Google search: I live in France, the term of art here for dish soap is "liquide vaisselle," not "savon vaisselle." (I just verified it with Monoprix.fr, where I do my grocery shopping when I am too bored to leave home.)

  6. Bob Ladd said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 10:11 am

    And for that matter, even in other parts of the Anglosphere "dish soap" would be an odd collocation. BrEng speakers generally "do the washing up" where AmEng speakers would "do the dishes", and as far as I know they normally use the phrase "washing up liquid" where MYL, Laura Morland, and others would reach for the "dish soap".

  7. Cervantes said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 11:17 am

    Well, dishwashing is a fairly boring activity. And "dull as dishwater" is a cliche simile. Maybe the prankster does it for a living and was venting the attendant feelings.

  8. John from Cincinnati said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 11:57 am

    @Bob Ladd — I checked the bottles under my kitchen sink. The "Joy" brand from Proctor & Gamble is labeled "dishwashing liquid" and the "Ajax" brand from Colgate-Palmolive is labeled "dish liquid". (I'm not particularly brand loyal.) But if I couldn't find the right shelf in my supermarket I would ask directions to the "dish soap". To distinguish it from bath soap, dishwasher soap, laundry detergent, and various specialized items in the category "cleaners".

  9. Michael said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 1:54 pm

    It's hardly a major issue, but as a native AmE speaker of New York-origin (but with parents out of Ohio and Virginia), I cannot imagine EVER saying the words "dish soap." It's dish detergent, dishawashing detergent, or dishwashing liquid.

  10. Rick Rubenstein said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 2:24 pm

    You've found the origin of the Tide Pod Challenge!

  11. Fraser said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 3:16 pm

    Make boring conversation sparkle, with witticisms and dish soap!

  12. Stephen Hart said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 4:22 pm

    Michael said,
    "as a native AmE speaker of New York-origin (but with parents out of Ohio and Virginia), I cannot imagine EVER saying the words "dish soap.""

    Whereas I, a native Seattleite, have always called it "dish soap."

    To my ear, "dishwashing liquid" is in a category with "beverage" and "vehicle" (vs. "drink" and "car").

  13. Stephen Hart said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 4:23 pm

    Cervantes said,
    "And "dull as dishwater" is a cliche simile."

    I've always heard that as "dull as ditchwater." I have heard the term "dishwater blond," though.

  14. ===Dan said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 6:18 pm

    Regarding Bob Ladd's comment; I recently learned of the term "washing-up liquid," and just found it on the Wikipedia page for "dishwashing liquid" (as "BrE").

    Stephen Hart: I never knowingly have heard "ditchwater" but the Google n-grams chart has an interesting pattern: https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_end=2019&year_start=1800&smoothing=3&content=dull+as+dishwater+%2C++dull+as+ditchwater&corpus=26&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cdull%20as%20dishwater%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cdull%20as%20ditchwater%3B%2Cc0

  15. Monscampus said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 8:00 pm

    Yes, ditchwater it is: "He is a stodgy teacher of Latin, disliked by his pupils, who find him boring and call him "Ditchy," short for "dull as ditch-water." (Wikipedia on the film Goodbye, Mr Chips in 1969)

    About the same time I was given the job of doing the washing up before leaving an English YH. The warden came in and said to me (I thought), "What a dull way to start the day!" – "But I'm almost finished…" – "In the weather forecast they said the sun will come out later, so it's not too bad."
    Only then I noticed he'd been watching the sky. Talking about the weather is what really bores me – and drying the dishes is much worse than washing them.

  16. Orin K Hargraves said,

    September 11, 2020 @ 7:56 am

    Don't overlook "Fairy liquid", a UK brand name that is popularly genericized.

  17. Mark P said,

    September 11, 2020 @ 8:14 am

    I have never called it dish soap because it’s never “soap.” I’ve always thought there was a difference between soap and detergent but never actually looked it up until now. Different ingredients, with detergents winning the “artificial chemical” race. But in any case, it has always been dish detergent for hand washing and dishwasher detergent for machine washing.

  18. Philip Taylor said,

    September 11, 2020 @ 9:44 am

    Regarding the difference (if any) between "soaps" and "detergents", I took a couple of Open University courses many moons ago (more than I would like to recall), and remember distinctly that the O.U. had its own terms for some things that others would refer to differently. The relevant one in this context is "syndets" (synthetic detergents) for what the rest of us would simply call "detergents", the reason being (if I remember correctly) that all soaps are detergents but not all detergents are soaps. And the ones that are not are therefore "synthetic detergents" (or "syndets") as opposed to (presumably) "natural detergents". Whether "natgents" is attested I do not know.

    The other area in which the O.U. insisted on going its own way was in regards to differentiation. Whilst 99.999% of humanity are content to use Leibniz notation, the O.U. insisted on using another notation, the name of which I sadly regret.

  19. Robert Coren said,

    September 11, 2020 @ 10:17 am

    We don't save old shopping lists, so I can't prove it, but I'm pretty sure that in our household (both originally from NYC) we write "dish soap" when we run low on dishwashing liquid. (All our dishwashing is done by hand.) That may be in part because it's short and easy to write.

  20. Gregory Kusnick said,

    September 11, 2020 @ 10:30 am

    Robert Coren has nailed it. I grew up calling it "detergent", but started spelling it "soap" around the time I started writing my own shopping lists.

  21. SlideSF said,

    September 11, 2020 @ 4:33 pm

    @Robert Coren – In our household the listed item is always a concise "Dawn", whether that is the brand purchased or not. Although it usually is.

  22. Kate Bunting said,

    September 12, 2020 @ 7:06 am

    I've just checked the bottle in my kitchen (UK) and it says 'washing-up liquid'. Not Fairy, although that's my usual brand. Out of curiosity, I found an image online of a Fairy Liquid bottle (also made by Procter & Gamble), and its label doesn't even specify what it is; it expects you to know from the brand name!

  23. Philip Anderson said,

    September 12, 2020 @ 3:02 pm

    “Ditchwater” for me (UK):
    And “washing-up liquid” – soap, even liquid soap, is for the body. Could be detergent.

  24. Philip Taylor said,

    September 12, 2020 @ 4:32 pm

    "Soap", in British English, can also be for clothes (as well as for the body) — "soap powder", even if a little old-fashioned, is still a generic term for proprietary laundry powders.

  25. Maurice Waite said,

    September 12, 2020 @ 7:16 pm

    On the websites of two major UK supermarkets, the only term used is 'washing-up liquid', with or without hyphen. (I am surprised that I haven't yet seen 'wash-up liquid', following the model of 'frypan', 'swimpool', etc.)

    I expect that 'dull as dishwater' is an eggcorn, arising now that fewer and fewer people are familiar with ditches, let alone aware of the uninteresting nature of their fluid contents.

    Addressing the subject of Mark's original inverstigation, hyphens—is 'assist in' odd here because it is normally followed by a gerund, e.g. 'assist in washing the dishes'? Perhaps the saboteur is not a native speaker of English. ('Assist with boredom' wouldn't sound natural to me either.)

  26. Gordon Campbell said,

    September 13, 2020 @ 3:53 am

    Surely everyone calls it dishwashing sauce?

  27. Flex said,

    September 13, 2020 @ 7:37 am

    Our family here in Michigan distinguishes between soap and detergent based on where it's used. So dish soap is a liquid used to hand-wash dishes. Hand soap is (usually) a gel dispensed onto hands for washing your hands. And bar soap is used in the bath/shower.

    On the other hand, detergent is used by the automatic cleaning machines. So the dishwasher uses dish (or dishwasher) detergent, and the washing machine uses wash (or washing machine) detergent.

    I don't have any idea how common this distinction is, my wife didn't make the distinction before we got married but we agreed on this convention because it is clear for shopping lists.

    My understanding is similar to Philip Taylor's above, that detergents are designed to bond to more chemical compounds than soap. That soap only bonds really well to fats/grease, making those types of filth soluble in water and frees those compounds from the material being washed. But there are other compounds which bond to other types of filth (or break down more complex compounds into simpler ones which will bond to water). For this reason many things branded as soap also contain other detergents to help it work well. With the result that there is little real difference between mass-produced products sold as soap or as detergents. Mind you, I am not a chemist so my understanding may be in error.

  28. Robert Coren said,

    September 13, 2020 @ 9:58 am


    And bar soap is used in the bath/shower.

    Not for cleaning the counter over which drinks are served?

  29. Elizabeth in Astoria said,

    September 15, 2020 @ 12:23 pm

    Is "dishwater blond," the same as "suicide blond" (dyed by her own hand)?

  30. Randy Hudson said,

    September 17, 2020 @ 4:51 pm

    The stuff I buy from Trader Joe's is labeled Liquid Dish Soap.

  31. CParker said,

    September 24, 2020 @ 3:39 am

    @Flex: Great explanation. That's similar to how I distinguish the three soaps. I call the soap used to wash clothes laundry detergent. Soap to clean my body I call bath soap. I call the soap to wash dishes, dish soap.

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