August 31st, 2005 • 10:42 am
English is only my second language. This means that I frequently ask myself questions for which the answers might be obvious to native speakers. But they are not obvious to me.
For example, I just wrote a post that I wanted to end with a side note. I started writing “On a side note…” and then I had doubts. Is it on a side note or as a side note?
The problem is that it is not always easy to find the answers to such questions in reference books. And I don’t always have a live native speaker handy. (Besides, live native speakers are not always helpful. English is their native language, so they say things spontaneously. If you start analyzing language and forcing them to think about what they say, why they say it, and whether it’s correct or not, they often turn out to be just as unsure as you are.)
Enter Google. Obviously, there is just as much bad English on the web as there is in the real world. But there is still a chance that the correct form occurs much more frequently than the incorrect one.
So I fired up Safari and typed “on a side note” (with the quotation marks) in its Google search field. I got “about 1,030,000” results. Then I typed “as a side note” (again, with the quotation marks) in the Google search field. I got “about 630,000” results.
The conclusion? Well, I am still not sure, but I went with on a side note. One million web pages can’t be wrong, right? However, there are so many results for as a side note that I suspect that both are, in fact, acceptable.
It’s not exactly scientific. It’s not exactly 100% conclusive. But still… Google can be rather convenient!