What did you last look for? Was it your phone, a key or maybe a book? If you’re anything like me, it was probably a pen that works! Most of us search for something from time to time so let’s take a look at the language of searching.
A number of words and phrases describe someone looking for one particular thing in a place where there are many things. They suggest that someone moves things around in the attempt to find what they are looking for. For example, there are the slightly informal phrasal verbs root around and poke around: I was just rooting around in my drawer, hoping to find a red pen. / If you poke around in that cupboard, you’ll probably find some glue. The verb rummage is used with the same meaning: She rummaged in her bag and pulled out a small, green bottle. / It was a video of a bear rummaging through a pile of trash.
Meanwhile, if you turn a place upside down, you search every bit of that place in order to find something, often leaving it very untidy: We turned the apartment upside down but we still couldn’t find the letter.
A verb with an extra meaning is ‘rifle’. If you rifle through somewhere, you search it quickly, often in order to steal something: Someone had obviously rifled through the drawers.
Some verbs describe someone searching a particular place or thing to find an item. For example, if you trawl, you often search through a large quantity of information in order to find what you want: The software is used to trawl for information on the Internet. If you scout for something, you look all over an area for it: I’ve been scouting around for somewhere to live. Other verbs suggest that you are looking for a particular thing. For example, if police or detectives comb an area, they search it very carefully in order to find weapons or other evidence: Police are combing the area for clues. If you forage, you go from place to place, looking for food. Wild and foraged food features prominently on the menu.
I’ll finish with two colourful idioms. If something is extremely difficult to find, often because there are so many things to look through, you might say it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. (A needle is a very thin piece of metal that is used for sewing and a haystack is a large pile of dried grass in a field!) There are so many pieces of paper here – it’s like finding a needle in a haystack! Meanwhile, if a search is a complete waste of time, often because the person or thing being searched for does not exist, we may call it a wild-goose chase. What, I wonder, are the equivalent idioms in your language?