Thursday, January 10, 2013

Cracking Google Books, a public service announcement

This isn't rocket science, but as per a request, I am posting the following.

A friend of mine, Mar Gavriel, remembered a funny sort of thing. In one of the volumes of the 24-volume strong Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, its editor James Strachey allowed himself a prim little indulgence, a confession. If he had the chance to redo the project "today" he would have omitted the tedious hyphen in "psycho-analysis," which is no longer used, but for the sake of consistency, the project continued to hyphenate it, perpetuating the archaism. Wait, was it the "tedious hyphen?" Or something else? My friend did not recall and wanted to find the exact words. He came across the page in Google Books - here - and was "pretty sure it used to be searchable," but no longer was. In fact, this happens with Google Books all the time. A book I could search in 2008, now it is a gan na'ul, searchable no more.

However, in no time I showed this to him:

This isn't amazing - it's just that I know that Google often scans multiple copies of the same work, and has an absolutely awful search function. For no good reason that I know you can search for a work by title and Google may give you two copies which it has. Or it may give you one. Or on some days it may give you none. Or if you click the "more editions" link it may give you eleven versions of the same work. Or none. And some may have a "snippet" view, and some may have a regular Preview, and some may have nothing. There seems to be little rhyme or reason. But the point is to know it. If you know it, then you could do as I did: search for The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume 24 even after you have already come across a version which allows no snippets to appear. And if that didn't work, I would have tried something else. Once I found that this book allows a snippet, I simply put in the word hyphen. And the text was right there. But if it hadn't, then I would have tried tedious, tired, tiresome, as well as words like starting and urge. The idea is to tease Google Books into giving you what you need. You can't always do it, but you can far more often than you'd think, and it's worth trying more than once before prematurely concluding that there is nothing there.

For added fun, now that I know the term is "tiresome hyphen" - and how fun is it that Strachey writes this while he also writes "to-day"? - I searched Google Books again, this time the phrase "tiresome hyphen," and was rewarded with these.


  1. When is a tiresome hyphen just a tiresome hyphen?

    1. One man's pedantic whatever is another's deeply fascinating excursion. See the comments here, for example.

  2. Yes, but I think gginat was referring to the Freudian quote, probably apocryphal, that "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." If you google "cigar just a cigar", you will get a bunch of informative hits.

    BTW, S., please check your email.

  3. Who needs Google books when you have Freddie's e-mail? :-)

    BTW, Gan Naul is avail on



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