Paging Alex Trebek: The Top 10 ‘What Is’ Google Searches of 2013

You can probably guess #1.

  • Share
  • Read Later

Once upon a time, in a decade actually not that long ago, there was a search engine called Ask Jeeves. In the early days of the Internet, there was something epically gratifying about typing a question into a window on your computer and having it answered for you.

As search algorithms got smarter and we got lazier, those days faded — we traded those quaint question-and-answer sessions with our browsers for simple keywords. No prepositions, no sentence structure, and who would bother with two simultaneous keypresses just to make a question mark?

(MORE: Google’s Top 10 “How-to” Searches of 2013)

Amazingly, Ask Jeeves is still in existence, and somehow still used by millions of people a day. It ranks as the #37 most popular website, just behind However, it’s clear that many millions more use Google, the top search website, for their queries — but even some of those who do still type their search in the form of a question. Future Jeopardy contestants, this one’s for you.

Google rounded up the top 10 most popular searches of 2013 that begin with the term “What is.”

1. What is Twerking
Thanks, Miley. Now your grandparents know what it means, and you’ll have to answer awkward questions about it at Christmas.

(MOREThe Top 10 Googled Images of 2013)

2. What is Ricin
— Back in April 2013, a Mississippi man was arrested for allegedly sending letters laced with ricin — a toxic substance extracted from castor beans — to President Obama and Senator Roger Wicker. It also played a major role in the Breaking Bad finale, when Walter White used the toxin to poison his overly anxious business partner Lydia Rodarte-Quayle.

3. What is DOMA
— The Defense of Marriage Act was a 17-year-old federal law partially struck down in June by the Supreme Court which barred the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex marriages even in states where it’s legal. And the movement to overturn it came with an adorable octogenarian champion.

4. What is Molly
— The designer drug started appearing in pop culture — actually, why bother explaining; we’ll just chalk this one up to Miley again — but it became very real (and dangerous) when the final day of major New York City music festival Electric Zoo was canceled in September after two concertgoers overdosed on the pure form of ecstasy.

5. What is Gluten
— Going gluten-free is the trendy dietary choice du jour. Even Beyonce and Jay-Z are (kinda) doing it, so why shouldn’t you? Oh, because gluten is a protein found in all wheat — meaning cereal, bagels, and pasta are all verboten.

(MOREGoogle’s Most Searched-for Calorie Counts)

6. What is Sequestration
— Why do governmental terms always have the most cryptic meanings? It took Super Committees and continuing resolutions galore to figure out that Congress couldn’t agree on a budget, which meant that billions had to be automatically slashed — sequestered — from federal programs when the cuts kicked in on March 1.

7. What is Obamacare
— Your ultimate view of this search term hinges on your political affiliation.

8. What is Lupus
— Perhaps we’re forgetting, but we can’t recall any instance this year of lupus in the news. Either way, the baffling illness has long been the stuff of legend, not least because of Dr. House’s famous phrase “It’s not lupus.” But for Google, it is.

(MOREGoogle Reveals Your Top Symptom Searches of 2013)

9. What is Snapchat
— Actually, you’re probably better off NOT knowing.

10. What is Bitcoin
— The highly volatile virtual currency has undergone a rollercoaster year after its primarily underground use exploded to mainstream life with the arrest of the founder of online black market Silk Road. Silk Roaders primarily used Bitcoin to buy and sell any number of legal and illegal goods, from weapons to drugs.

MOREThe 10 Most Discussed Gadgets and Apps of 2013 (According to Google)