The Verbification of Google

I’m really enjoying the Editing Certificate program at the University of Washington.  One of the lecturers is a witty and vivacious author and educator by the name of Cherie Tucker. Only in my wildest dreams could I ever be half as keen, piquant, and full of anecdotes and factoids regarding proper (and improper) English as she. Maybe when I grow up. 😉

The story below, however, comes from something that a student mentioned during class and not directly from the clever tongue of Mrs. Tucker (who I think is a “Mrs.”). That story is thus:

Apparently, Google does not condone, and in fact wishes to discourage the use of the word “google” as a verb.  I found that fact fascinating.

For those of you who do, too, here’s some further reading on the subject:

Here’s an article that is almost 10 years old…

Google wants people to stop googling – CNET News

Google has said it intends to crack down on the use of its name as a generic verb, in phrases such as “to google someone.” The Internet search giant said such phrases were potentially damaging to its brand.”We think it’s important to make the distinction between using the word ‘Google’ to describe using Google to search the Internet and using the word ‘google’ to generally describe searching the Internet. It has some serious trademark issues,” a representative for the search company said.

Julie Coleman, an authority on linguistics from the University of Leicester, said she could understand Google’s concerns.

“The prestige associated with a trademark is lost if people use it generically, so I do see Google’s point. They also do lots more than just search, so maybe they’re reluctant for their brand name to be restricted in this way,” Coleman said.

But Coleman added that once new words enter into common usage, it is impossible to stop their use.

“Google can’t possibly stop the spread of the verb,” Coleman said. “Normal people are using it in normal conversation and in writing, and they aren’t likely to face legal proceedings.”

What Google could do, said Coleman, is “force dictionaries to mention its origin in a trademarked brand name, which is what the Oxford English Dictionary already does.”

Even if Google’s attempts to stop this misuse of its trademark turn out to be in vain, many argue it shouldn’t even be trying.

Members of the blogging community have suggested it is a sign that Google is losing its once-cool facade and that the search giant is taking itself too seriously.

One blogger also suggested Google has missed the obvious compliment in all this, which is that the use is evidence the company now owns the search industry.

“This should be the ultimate compliment, and I cannot believe Google sees it differently,” blogger and computing graduate Frank Gruber wrote.

Steve Rubel, another blogger, branded it “one of the worst PR moves in history.”

Morgan McLintic, a PR executive based in the heart of Silicon Valley, said Google should certainly learn when to love its addition to the English language.

“‘Googling’ is already common parlance for searching on the Internet,” McLintic wrote. “And there is only one place you go to ‘google,’ so this is a good thing for Google with a capital ‘G’. The media’s use of the verb is simply a reflection of everyday use.”

Google’s move reflects the concerns of other businesses, such as Xerox, which has complained that its brand has become a generic term for photocopying respectively. Apple Computer is also taking action to defend “iPod.”

AOL is another technology company that has fought the tendency of brands to become generic. It has contacting media outlets in the past over the use of “instant messenger” to describe any IM application, claiming that to be its brand.

Will Sturgeon of reported from London.


And here’s another that’s from 2012:

Google Doesn’t Want People Using “Google” As A Verb


Google isn’t quite pleased that their company name is becoming something of a generic term:

You hear it in movies, TV shows, among your friends and you probably say it yourself: “I Googled her before I called her.” “I know because I Googled it.” “What’s the temperature in Fargo? Google it!”

But Google wants you — and the world — to stop using Google as a verb for looking up anything on the Internet — unless you actually used Google’s search engine to do so.

Google’s laser focus on how its name is used even extends to Sweden, where the country’s Language Council recently wanted to add the word “ungoogleable” to a list of new words as meaning something that can’t be found on the Web using a search engine. Note: search engine — not necessarily Google’s.

Google objected, according to the Associated Press, “asking for changes showing the expression specifically refers to Google searches and a disclaimer saying Google is a registered trademark, the council said Tuesday.” The group also expressed its “displeasure with Google’s attempts to control the language.”

Google told NBC News Tuesday it did not ask the council to remove the word, but only wanted some editing of the definition.

With Google as the leading search engine, there’s little doubt these we mean Google when we say we Googled something. As comedian Ellen DeGeneres said on her show, talking about technology’s impact on our lives, “If you need to know something immediately, you can Google it now …. Ten years ago, if you said you were going to ‘Google’ someone, you got written up by Human Resources.”

So, what’s so bad about using “Google” as a verb for saying you looked up information on the Internet?

Ironically, because of Google’s “significant brand recognition,” the company “has started down the path of becoming synonymous with search engine services and, accordingly, towards the genericization of a trademark,” wrote attorney Matthew Swyers, founder of a law firm specializing in trademark rights, in an article for Inc. last year.

And becoming generic is bad because it threatens a company’s legal right to a trademark.

“Aspirin was originally a trademark of Bayer AG,” Swyers wrote. “Escalator was originally a trademark of the Otis Elevator Company. Even the word Zipper, at one time, was a trademark owned by B.F. Goodrich. Now, because of their respective fame and genericization, they merely refer to classes of products we see every day and do not identify the source of those goods.”

So, there’s a perfectly good business reason for what Google is trying to do here. They’ve got a valuable trademark and they don’t want to see it’s value diminished by being turned into a generic term that refers to looking things up on a search engine, any search engine. The problem Google faces is that languages develop and adapt naturally. Google became a verb, I’d suggest, largely because of the uniqueness of the word and because of the ubiquitousness of Google. By far, it is the search engine that most people turn to when they need to look something up. That may not always been the case, though, while I’m certain that Google wouldn’t want someone to say they “Googled” something only to realize they looked it up on Bing, they may not be able to control how the language develops. Just ask Bayer and Otis. Or, you know, they could Google it.

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