Boolean: a rambled definition

After finishing Peter Morville’s Search Patterns, I hopped online to search for the word “Boolean,” which I think is such a phenomenal word, and discovered that it’s saddled with one of the most boring etymologies: the “create a word from the creator’s last name” origin.

Specifically, “Boolean” comes from its creator, George Boole, an English dude who, according to Wikipedia, was a sporadically published mathematician who (unbeknownst to him) just so happened to help create the field of computer science and, in death, appeared in a stained glass window at Lincoln Cathedral.

In fact, Wikipedia has several entries for Boolean, most of which I quickly became bored with. I’m more interested in how Boolean affects search – the AND/OR/NOT functions that expand and/or contract search results – and how Boolean standards have become almost second nature.

We now assume, without thinking, that double quotes mean “exact match,” a space means “AND,” and a negative sign (-) means “NOT.” The only literal Boolean phrase we use anymore is “OR.” We’ve replaced words with symbols, which is fascinating, but even more so is the fact that we have replaced one word (AND) with NOTHING AT ALL – just whitespace.

The whole mess led me to discovering two new words (NAND and XOR) and finding clarification for a third (NOR), for which I am thankful. It also led me to wish I had never made the search in the first place, as it will take me more time to learn than I am willing to invest.

I know this, though: Boolean – what a great word.

This was lovingly handwritten on December 2nd, 2010