Sunday, July 03, 2016

What's a Frailing Tool?

Here's an interesting look into how well Google Search works.

My countrified brother Robert refers to a hammer (or any suitably heavy club, really) as a "frailing tool". As in "hand me that thar frailin' tool so ah kin talk some sense into this lawnmower." A frailing tool is something that you whack on something else with. It looks like this:


And sure enough, if you type "frailing tool" into Google Search, it returns a hammer in its top three results. But getting there is simply amazing.

See, there is NO dictionary online that yields that definition. If you type "frailing tool" into Google search (with the quotes), you get only 2 hits, and there's a comma between the words on both of them.

In fact, the word "frailing" (verb) is always associated with (of all things)... banjos.

If you enter "+frailing -banjo" into Google (that is, require "frailing" and exclude "banjo") you get no results at all. It just gives up and removes the requirements. As far as the Internet is concerned, frailing is a term reserved for banjo players. And it's never done with a tool.

According to the Internet, this is the only thing for frailing

So what is it? "Frailing" on a banjo means to strike the strings on the downstroke instead of picking. It's also called "beating", "banging", "rapping", "clubbing", etc. Another synonym is "clawhammer style".

So you see how it might get to hammer. But I didn't say hammer.

At first glance it looks downright intelligent. It looks like Google inferred that a hammer is a plausible tool for frailing (i.e., "beating", "banging", etc).

Actually, I think that having come up nearly empty looking for "frailing tool", Google probably looked for the terms independently. If found plenty of results for "frailing", many of which contained "clawhammer". It also found a "claw hammer" in the results for "tool". But then it went a little farther... it had to have determined that this tool is found often enough with "frailing" to include the Wikipedia article even though it did not include the word "frailing". And that's possibly bolstered by the fact that many of the verbs used in conjunction with the hammer also appear on the pages with "frailing". I don't think this result could have been reached without several levels of cross-checking.

In other words, to a certain extent, it is what it looks like. And however it happens, by luck or logic, Google found and returned exactly the right result by inference. And it did it in under a third of a second.

For a program, that's pretty impressive.

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