Did you know that the Financial Times only mentioned sausages once in the title of a story last year? Shocking, isn’t it? The Guardian, on the other hand, had a very respectable 19 mentions, outstripped by The Times with 22. That’s more like it.
Let me explain. As part of my job, I “road test” electronic resources. Sometimes these are web-based reference resources to which providers would like Westminster Libraries to subscribe (for inclusion in the Exclusive Resources available to library members). At other times I test new or allegedly-improved search engines, or the search boxes on websites which we are considering for the Gateway to Websites. I use a range of search terms related to the resource I’m testing, but I always make a point of searching for “sausages”, with which most search engines will bracket “sausage” (singular). Why do I do this? Partly devilment, partly just to see what turns up.
Sorry to spoil the frivolous tone, but the sausage-search is actually useful for news databases, because it returns a relatively low number of hits compared with, say, “murder” or “Diana”, allowing me to assess the quality of the hits. For instance, sometimes the same story will be repeated several times, as different editions of the relevant new story have been included. Weeding out the duplicates can be time-consuming for a serious researcher, and is something to note.
But now back to enjoyment: the hits for other resources can be mouthwatering, intriguing or downright bizarre. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has 25 biographies with the s-word in them, including a footballer who advertised them (George Best), a broadsheet publisher who was jailed for alleging that a London butcher made his sausages from human flesh (James Catnach), and a monarch alleged to have been obsessed with sausages and penguins (George III, as portrayed in Blackadder).
Oxford Music Online (which used to be Grove Music), has 22 hits. Mendelssohn accused a rival of being an “indigestible sausage”. Hugo Wolf was such a fanatical Wagnerite that he became a vegetarian in tribute to his idol, despite a love of sausage (“ambrosia”). And a Renaissance woodwind instrument called the Racket was also known as the Sausage Bassoon.
A resource which needs all the levity it can get is KnowUK, the very useful but not exciting collection of directories and handbooks covering many aspects of UK life. It returns a massive 168 hits, mostly straightforward food references, but with a few inedible delicacies. Agatha Christie (quoted in the Hutchinson Encyclopaedia of Britain) described herself as “a sausage machine, a perfect sausage machine”, cleverly getting in before anyone else. Anthony Trollope, quoted in the Hutchinson Dictionary of Quotations, describes his sources thus: “Of course I draw from life – but I always pulp my acquaintance before serving them up. You would never recognize a pig in a sausage.” A candidate for the Hartlepool constituency in the 2005 General Election adopted the name Sausage Supremo Headbanger, unnecessarily describing himself as “Loony”.
Try it yourself. Hours of harmless amusement.