After visiting a website earlier today and then visiting MW's online dictionary, I found a sample sentence in the MW definition that had a strikingly similar context to results in my earlier search. This is either a weird coincidence, or MW is foisting customized sample sentences on me.

Background: Earlier today, I searched an uncommon collocation negative imprimatur and landed on this article titled "Diversity 101: What Not to Say to White Colleagues". The article is a discussion of race and language in the workplace. I copied the relevant snippet to an answer, got a couple drive-by downvotes, and deleted the answer. I can guess why the downvotes happened. That isn't the question.

Just a minute ago, I looked up befuddled in MW and got the following -

: utterly confused or puzzled : deeply perplexed … somebody may be so befuddled and self-destructive as to miss the point entirely. —Anne B. Fisher
I also believe whites are as befuddled about race as we are … —Nathan McCall

Now this reappearance of racial context in MW's last sample sentence is either a really weird coincidence, or MW is feeding me quotes based on what I looked at or reposted. Can someone confirm that everybody gets the same quotes when they look up befuddled.

  • 3
    An interesting question, but is it really about ELU? Mar 29, 2018 at 9:11
  • M-W is not adaptive. You get only the quotes they have set for a vocabulary item. It doesn't adapt to the context of the web request.
    – Mitch
    Mar 29, 2018 at 12:43
  • @Mitch It's about the mechanics of answering questions. I like to know the rules of the game I'm playing. And it would be an odd thing to be citing MW for content being foisted by third parties. But now that I have an answer, I can delete the question if you think that's best.
    – Phil Sweet
    Mar 29, 2018 at 13:14
  • I think it's a useful thing to note that M-W is not adaptive. I had a hard time understanding your question (I just could not follow your intro, the MW quote and then the leap to 'weird coincidence', it just did not connect for me without looking back and forth from MW to this question and that article a number of times, with only the fact that you asked a question leading me to connect them all. This question really needs some extra explanation about why you think a coincidence happened, what was the actual coincidence, which after investigation I realize is...
    – Mitch
    Mar 29, 2018 at 13:33
  • ...which after investigation I realize is 1) you looked at a page about race (it did not include the word 'befuddled' 2) Supposedly independently, hours later, you did an MW search for 'befuddled' 3) that entry's quote mentions race. That was the coincidence (it was not at all clear to me). And then your explicit question must then have been "Does MW use some context (browser history, cookies, Cambridge Analytica, an excess of chronotron particles causing a rift in the space-time continuum) to focus its pages to the specific user (with reader specific ads or supporting quotes)?" Answer: no.
    – Mitch
    Mar 29, 2018 at 13:38
  • @Mitch Done, see edit to last paragraph.
    – Phil Sweet
    Mar 29, 2018 at 13:42
  • Please link to the deleted answer on ELU. It was not apparent from you second sentence that this is what you did.
    – Mitch
    Mar 29, 2018 at 14:07
  • Also, for your piece of mind, at least with MW it was a coincidence.
    – Mitch
    Mar 29, 2018 at 14:24
  • @Mitch I rolled it back. That level of detail is not needed. The entire first paragraph is basically just history. None of the links need to be visited to understand the question. I will try to clue readers in earlier with an edit.
    – Phil Sweet
    Mar 29, 2018 at 14:42
  • @Mitch, It should be clearer now, less distraction.
    – Phil Sweet
    Mar 29, 2018 at 14:56

1 Answer 1


I get the same page, the one that has that quote, both in regular browsing and in incognito, so I don't think MW is targeting you. It's also the same page shown in the Google cache. It seems to just be a static page.

It's not like it's even the same quote as NPR has. The only connection between the two that I see is race, which continues to be an important topic (or at least it is in the US).

I also don't see what the benefit would be. Or at least I don't see the benefit being worth the cost. It's Google and Facebook that you need to worry about. 😈 Both of these giants serve advertising on many different websites, using a variety of techniques to target ads to you.

  • It was a bit creepy. I have previously stumbled into searches that went in unexpected directions and left me fighting spam and even hackers. One entirely benign search led me to an early speech by a guy named Adolf, and within an hour I had malware on my computer from multiple sources. On a second occasion, I was asked by a friend to help him sanitize a collection of about 30,000 family photos because his family's site had gotten linked somehow to kiddie porn. Next thing I know, I'm getting porn spam.
    – Phil Sweet
    Mar 29, 2018 at 4:21
  • I get the same quotations from MW. I agree with Laurel that Google and Facebook do the most tracking, but your browser is probably also tracking sites you visit and trying to figure out what you're looking for.
    – Xanne
    Mar 29, 2018 at 7:14
  • @PhilSweet - If you want to do an independent check, you could jump to a different browser. Or empty your cache completely (including wiping your cookies and history etc.), run Ccleaner or jump to a different computer where you are not logged into anything that you were logged into on Computer #1. The thing to make especially sure of in such a test would be that you are not logged into gmail. Apr 9, 2018 at 12:39

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