OK Google: Urbanism is a word

I wrote someone an email recently, and in it I used the word “urbanism.” To my surprise, Gmail spellcheck underlined that word in red.

I tried other varieties. “Urban” does not get underlined. “Urbanization” is also OK. Even “urbanity” is in Google’s dictionary! So why is “urbanism” left out? “Urban” has been a Latin root word for anything related to cities for centuries. Tufts has a greatly detailed Latin dictionary.

The Odeon of Domitian, Ancient Rome.

What forces are at work here? I have a feeling that the answer is prosaic and disappointing. The answer may lie with how online spellcheckers work. My understanding is this: large online databases store lists of every known English word on their servers. Here’s Oracle’s (and an excerpt below):


Companies like Google can tap into that text, and use Java or Javascript to check a user’s input text against that list at the speed of the internet.  Google had its own attempt at a dictionary database called Google Dictionary, but it was discontinued in 2011. It was preserved in its unfinished state at this website. I typed in “urbanization” and got a hit. But then I typed in “urbanism” and got nothing!

WordPress also doesn’t recognize “urbanism” as a word, perhaps because it piggybacks its spellcheckers onto Google’s. Could Google have left some words behind when it migrated its database of English words in 2011?

One final note. The great irony is that Google’s parent company Alphabet has an urban planning subsidiary called Sidewalk Labs. Their well-publicized foray into using data to plan better cities already has a pilot project underway in Toronto, partnering with Thomas Heatherwick, Snøhetta, and other huge names in architecture & planning. Maybe it’s time for the leading innovators in urbanism to expand their vocabulary. I mean that in the least sarcastic way possible.

True true blue

If you Google most words (I tried “apple” and then “death”) the mosaic of images has a fairly consistent palette.
You consider, then, the now-known innovations of Google’s search engine– piggybacking what people are actually visiting, bumping up on the list websites most-linked-to– and one can say that what you see (after a torturous 0.35 seconds of waiting) is a sort of consensus.
You’ll see where I’m going with this– in the meantime I tried “desire” with hilariously one-sided results.
So it occurred to me when tinkering with the RGB bar on a rendering how gooey everything is and how nobody really knows anything about anything– in other words, as Goethe said, colors are just manifestations of light, which is really depressing to imagine (“Van Gogh went crazy thinking about it and cut his ear off. Get it?” “Yeah, yeah, totally…”). Not only is it depressing, it makes color quite subjective. Is the sky blue, or is this link blue? Sometimes, lying in bed on one side for too long, I find that my left and right eyes will see colors in different shades. Is there a definitive blue? Well, insofar as we exist in and depend on Google, I’d say the mosaic of images Google gives under “blue” must be the true true blue, and same with “red” and “green,” thus forming the basis of our additive color spectrum.

Back to an earlier thought: Google “fetishism”, and the results are more varied than I expected. Without a doubt there are the inevitable ass shots and stockings and heels, but the consensus is fuzzy. Of course, it is the nature of the word itself. From Marx to Voodoo we have considered fetishism’s evolution both as a term and a phenomenon (of course, “fetishism” is an example of fetishism: the creation of a proxy, a votive figure, a replacement, which is then worshipped disproportionately. Gettin’ meta enough?). But what does it mean when Googling something gives you so many disparate results? Could this be an accurate aggregate of data on words, terms, and topics which are being currently debated? Or do I need to just adjust my parental controls?

One thing there should be no debate over at all (EHEM, Mitt) is the use of the word “marriage” in the US Constitution. There IS NO SUCH MENTION.
Why can’t folks accept that two people with different views want the same civil rights and mutual benefits under lifelong partnership as they do? Geez, if I were president I’d take focus off the word “marriage” entirely (“Fine, conservatives, you can have your semantics. But for this time and this time only, I am putting the substance the word pretends to represent ahead of the word itself!“) by naming all lifelong unions civil partnership or something inoffensive and undefiled like that. Heck– the key here seems to be to find a term that hasn’t been debated over yet, so that it carries no baggage. This, I suppose, is the crisis of every innovation: to find a name for it that is sounds new and exciting, but not too new so as to sound foreign. Sham-WOW. Un-real.
So what’s a good new name for [marriage]?