One of the best things about the English language has to be its flexibility; the way we can be creative with words to find new meanings. A great example of this comes from something we all probably use every day without even thinking about it: Google.

We all know that Google is a trademark name for a popular internet search engine, which means it’s a proper noun. But that doesn’t stop us from using it as a verb:

‘He googled the woman he had met at the party.’

Google co-founder, Larry Page, even used the word as a verb as early as 1998:

‘Have fun and keep googling!’

The transitive verb to google was chosen as the most useful word of 2002 according to the American Dialect Society and it was added to both the Oxford English Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary in 2006.

I’ve also come across the variants googleable, ungoogleable and ungoogleability, referring to things which can or cannot be found using the Google search engine.

However, Google the company is not exactly thrilled by people using google the verb so often, since it is sometimes applied to search engines other than Google itself and using it so generically then threatens the trademark. Because of this, Google has been discouraging the use of the trademark as a generic verb. It has sent cease and desist letters to various people and a request to the general public stating that ‘you should please only use ‘Google’ when you’re actually referring to Google Inc. and our services’.

Google’s concern about to google might sound inconsequential but considering how language change has already wiped out the trademarks of Aspirin, Escalator, Heroin, Linoleum, Bubble Wrap, Dictaphone and Thermos among many more, Google has a right to be worried.

Still, trademark disputes are always complicated. Language is constantly in motion and new words, or neologisms, are always being coined. Sometimes these neologisms can come from existing words, like to google. Sometimes they can be created from thin air, like the source of the search engine’s name, that is, the googol.

The original word googol is a mathematical term for the number 10100. It was invented by a Milton Sirotta, nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner, in 1938 when Sirotta was at the ripe old age of nine. When asked to think of a name for a very large number, one followed by 100 zeroes, Sirotta replied with ‘googol’ and also suggested the word ‘googolplex’ for an even bigger number: 10 to the googol power.

So new words are always being made up and then being adapted and tweaked until they mean something different. Even if the folks at Google aren’t so happy with the way we use the term to google, it’s unavoidable: neologisers gonna neologisticate.


5 thoughts on “Google

  1. Good choice and topic. There are certainly pros and cons to both the “flexibility” of our language and the tendency to turn corporate products into generic terms. That’s what happened to kleenex, and many others. I can understand Google’s reluctance to have their trademark used to cover generic searches.

  2. I love the flexibility of the English language, although I do not love it when people do not use the ‘correct’ version. Then the debate ensues about what is ‘correct’. I do use the verb ‘to google’ a lot, but as I only use google as a search engine, I feel justified in doing so. This is a really enjoyable post, and I look forward to seeing more.


  3. Thank you for all the positive comments everyone! It’s always nice to hear people are interested in these things too.

    Trademark disputes are such a complicated thing. I once wrote a long essay about whether or not Apple should be able to trademark ‘app store’ and by the end of it, I still couldn’t really decide.

    Generally speaking, I’m a descriptivist, though not a passionate one. Sure, everyone has their linguistic bugbears (mine is the use of double negatives) but it’s all part of language change.

    Still, trademarks throw a spanner in the works for all that, since when a trademark becomes generic, it affects that company’s brand and business.

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