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.
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.