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You may know about Google's relatively new ~ syntax, which allows you to search for synonyms. To get an idea of how much ground it covers, search for blue and then ~blue; you will definitely get different result counts.
As for stemming, I miss it less than I thought I would since full-word wildcards are available...
I see no evidence that Google have changed their policy on stemming [google.com]:
To provide the most accurate results, Google does not use "stemming" or support "wildcard" searches. In other words, Google searches for exactly the words that you enter in the search box. Searching for "book" or "book*" will not yield "books" or "bookstore". If in doubt, try both forms: "airline" and "airlines," for instance.
Full-word wildcards: Google doesn't support stemming, where you can stick a * at the end of a word and get variants on that word -- moon* finding moonlight, moondance, mooning, etc. But Google DOES support full-word wildcards, where you can substitute * for a word. For example, searching Google for "three * mice" finds three blind mice, three blue mice, three green mice, etc.
which of course has the desired effect.
But it has nothing to do with any wildcard feature. In fact a search for
Three * Mice
yields the same results as a search for
Three and Mice
Three a Mice
Just nitpicking though, because in the end it's the effect that counts.
Google is not just removing them. If Google was just removing them then the searches "three * mice" and "three * * mice" would get the same results, and they don't. There's some kind of placeholding going on, whether you want to call it wildcard or something else.
A search for "three * mice" (note quotes) does NOT give the same results for "three and mice", as Google doesn't recognize many (any? Maybe "the"?) stopwords in phrases.