About 14,540,000,000 results for this
From Triple Canopy:
A search for the word this on the Web will get you RickRoll’D. The various unrelated hits that appear include This American Life, This Is Why You’re Fat, and a site that asks: “If you are feeling suicidal now, please stop long enough to read this.” When one takes advantage of a more sophisticated Google device, the increasingly popular Ngram Viewer, the statistical portrait served up from the depths of Google’s digitized book collection is just as opaque. Even though it carries with it an aura of the scientific, this Ngram tells us no more about the demonstrative pronoun’s most interesting uses than do even the ridiculously irrelevant top search results for this.
Yet this is a piece of literary minutiae, which, while straining the capacities of any search engine, has had a profound effect on literary experimentation. Why, for example, is our search not topped with William Carlos Williams’s:
—of this, make it of this, this
this, this, this, this.
Or Charles Olson’s:
I have this sense,
that I am one
with my skin
Plus this—plus this:
that forever the geography
which leans in
on me I compell
backwards I compell Gloucester
to yield, to
Even with the ability to consult a specialized database like the Chadwyck-Healey, a digital collation of literary texts from the eighth century to the present, the task of making a systematic literary survey of this is daunting. Because of the word’s sheer frequency, it would be difficult to use a computer to search out thises that are significant rather than perfunctory: the meta-thises, the thises about this, all this. As a “stop word,” it isn’t even considered by most search engines.
Michael Snow’s 1982 all-text structural film So Is This perhaps best captures the strange physis of this commenting on its own workings: “This is the title of this film. The rest of this film will look just like this…” The title of the film becomes its description becomes its substance; each word is enclosed in a separate shot, this being the keyword that allows the film to escape the logic of clear, sequential meaning. Snow’s film allows us to dwell on the powers of this as a semantic unit isolated from its surroundings; in doing so, it implies that the word radically resists such isolation.