Since a recent entry on this blog about the origins of the name of the search engine Google, equal time has been demanded for rivals Yahoo, Bing, and several others. No sooner said than done!
Yahoo, which entered the fray in 1994, started as “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web,” named by Jerry Yang and David Filo, who devised the system while they were graduate students in electrical engineering at Stanford. That must have seemed a bit too homey--like Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery in Lake Wobegon, or Billie Jo and Myrtle’s Bank and Trust Company in Cut and Shoot, Texas. It was eventually changed to Yahoo, which is reputed to be an acronym for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.” Yahoo also means “a filthy, degraded, vicious lout,” from the human-like creatures that are contrasted with the more civilized, horse-like Houynhmns in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Why this seems to be an appropriate name for a search engine is a mystery.
Bing, Microsoft’s search engine launched in 2009, is a lot easier to grasp. Originally known as MSN Search—not a very catchy name, you have to admit—the new Bing is an onomatapoeia, a word that imitates the sound it represents. It’s supposed to remind you of the sound made by certain machines at the moment of the completion of a task (like a cash register ringing up a sale?) and also to suggest “Bingo!”, a word of triumph derived from the game played on cruise ships and in parish halls. Bing Crosby, Bing cherries, and Sir Rudolf Bing do not seem to enter into it.
Alta Vista (“high view”), which has been around since 1995, was chosen in reference to the surroundings of the Digital Equipment Corp. at Palo Alto (“tall tree”), California.
Ask.Com is pretty straightforward, but you have to know it was originally Ask Jeeves, an allusion to Bertie Wooster’s infallibly helpful valet in the stories by P. G. Wodehouse.
Yelp, another new alternative (2004) that specializes in local searches, is a word that means a sharp, shrill cry, from the Old English gielpan, meaning “boast.”
No one seems to have thought of naming a search engine Eureka (“I have found it”), the word uttered by Archimedes when he discovered a method for determining the purity of gold.
Bottom-feeding on the World Wide Web, The Bard of Buffalo Bayou came up with this bit of detritus:
I feel extremely sorry for my Ma and Pa, who
Had no Alta Vista, Google, Bing, Ask, or Yahoo.
You can very easily do the most difficult task
With Alta Vista, Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Ask.
Yes, indeed, you can discover every little thing
On Google, Alta Vista, Ask, Yahoo, or Bing—
There’s no need to be intellectually frugal
With Ask, Alta Vista, Yahoo, Bing and Google.
As for me, I never will be able to resist a
Chance to learn why grain grows an arista,
Or how the ancient Romans employed a ballista,
Or what I could do if I had a nice, fresh genista,Or what Wikipedia says about Flockhart, Calista—
On Yahoo, Bing, Ask, Google, and Alta Vista.