Welcome!

Java IoT Authors: Pat Romanski, Yeshim Deniz, Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Zakia Bouachraoui

Related Topics: Cognitive Computing , Agile Computing

Cognitive Computing : Article

"To Google" Is Officially a Verb: A Behind-the-Scenes History

The 11th edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary includes “googling” (lower case g)

Doug Edwards' Xooglers Blog
[Originally posted Monday, July 10, 2006]

Googling has officially become a verb. The 11th edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary now includes “googling” (lower case g). Actually the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) beat them to the punch a month ago by listing Google (upper case g) in their authoritative lexicon of the English language. It’s about time. People have been using Google as a verb for years, despite protestations by the company (many of which I authored myself) about the genericization of the trademarked name.

Having your brand name used as a generic term, is of course, a mixed blessing for a company. On the one hand, it’s great to have your name become the common shorthand for an entire category. It implies acceptance that your product is the standard by which all others in the category are judged and it’s great word-of-mouth for building awareness and trial.

On the other hand, you want to protect your trademark and it’s difficult to do that if overuse dilutes its connection to your product. If Google becomes synonymous with “searching the internet” without a connection to the specific service offered by Google Inc. at www.google.com, then anyone can offer a way to “google for information.” Say, for example, Microsoft. They could offer an MSN google box if Google’s trademark on the name were to be revoked through genericide.

And so, companies like Google are forced to write letters to those who misuse their trademark as a verb (verbs cannot be trademarked). If they don’t, the US Patent and Trademark Office may decide that the company is no longer interested in maintaining ownership of its trademarked term.

The whole process is silly and goes against the dynamic nature of language and is about as effective as standing in a rising river and yelling at the rain to stop falling. Everyone knows people will use words the way they want to. That’s how languages avoid dying. As an English major and frequent abuser of grammar as an advertising copywriter, I always felt hypocritical playing enforcer, but the law was pretty clear. So letters were sent when we saw our trademark being incorrectly applied.

We’d work with TV shows that wanted to include references to Google and request that they not use it as a verb (they usually ignored us). We’d ask reporters not to promote incorrect usage and we’d keep an eye on the most important of all agents in the battle for trademark protection: lexicographers.

Once an editor defines a word in a dictionary, it carries a lot of weight in the courts as they decide whether a word is still a trademark or has become a more general term. So, we tried to forestall the official definition of Google as something other than our proprietary service.

In early 2003, the website Wordspy included Google as a neologism, without specifically tying it to Google Technology Inc (the formal name of the company at that time). So, our legal department sent them a letter. The note was a typically polite, but direct, request that Wordspy cease and desist their use of Google in an improper fashion. It didn’t threaten legal action, but simply asked that Wordspy, “help us to protect our brand by deleting the definition of "google" found at wordspy.com or revising it to take into account the trademark status of Google.”

When the publisher of Wordspy posted the letter on his site, some people inside and outside of the Googleplex got upset about Google having turned into a heavy-handed monopolistic oppressor of the weak and downtrodden. This happened with disturbing regularity. Apparently a certain percentage of any set group of people looks for signs that companies with sterling reputations are actually fronting for Satan. And of course, with Google’s “Don’t be evil” motto hanging on its back like a “kick me” sign, the company got cut very little slack.

The internal controversy led to seminars on what constituted a trademark and discussion about whether we violated our own rules by offering onesies for infants that said "I Google" and by signing our customer service emails with "Keep on Googlin'."

Slashdot picked up the Wordspy story, which meant it quickly spread through the geek community. To be fair, most of the comments on the original post accurately reflected the nature of Google’s predicament. Still, the hate mail began pouring in and we scrambled to smooth our users’ ruffled feathers.

Just as that furor was calming down, we heard a rumor that the OED was going to include Google in their next edition. Given their prominence, we couldn’t afford to sit back and hope for the best. I worked with Rose in legal to write a letter that took on more of an advisory than adversarial tone. It turned out to be a false alarm as Google had not yet attained the level of awareness it has today and the editors of the OED were not ready to acknowledge it formally. We did receive assurances that the OED staff understood the nature of trademarks and were sensitive to the issues involved in defining a trademark term.


Doug's History of Protecting "Google" Continues on the Next Page


[This post appeared originally here on July 10, 2006, and is republished here in full by kind permission of the author, who retains full copyright.]

More Stories By Doug Edwards

From 1999 to 2005, Doug Edwards was was director of consumer marketing and brand management for Google. Other work experience includes stints as online brand group manager for the San Jose Mercury News, communications director for KQED FM, admission officer for Brown University and Novosibirsk correspondent for the public radio program Marketplace. He blogs at http://xooglers.com, a gathering spot for ex-Googlers to reminisce and comment on the latest developments in search.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


IoT & Smart Cities Stories
When talking IoT we often focus on the devices, the sensors, the hardware itself. The new smart appliances, the new smart or self-driving cars (which are amalgamations of many ‘things'). When we are looking at the world of IoT, we should take a step back, look at the big picture. What value are these devices providing. IoT is not about the devices, its about the data consumed and generated. The devices are tools, mechanisms, conduits. This paper discusses the considerations when dealing with the...
Charles Araujo is an industry analyst, internationally recognized authority on the Digital Enterprise and author of The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change. As Principal Analyst with Intellyx, he writes, speaks and advises organizations on how to navigate through this time of disruption. He is also the founder of The Institute for Digital Transformation and a sought after keynote speaker. He has been a regular contributor to both InformationWeek and CIO Insight...
Digital Transformation is much more than a buzzword. The radical shift to digital mechanisms for almost every process is evident across all industries and verticals. This is often especially true in financial services, where the legacy environment is many times unable to keep up with the rapidly shifting demands of the consumer. The constant pressure to provide complete, omnichannel delivery of customer-facing solutions to meet both regulatory and customer demands is putting enormous pressure on...
Machine learning has taken residence at our cities' cores and now we can finally have "smart cities." Cities are a collection of buildings made to provide the structure and safety necessary for people to function, create and survive. Buildings are a pool of ever-changing performance data from large automated systems such as heating and cooling to the people that live and work within them. Through machine learning, buildings can optimize performance, reduce costs, and improve occupant comfort by ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that IoT Global Network has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 6–8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. The IoT Global Network is a platform where you can connect with industry experts and network across the IoT community to build the successful IoT business of the future.
CloudEXPO New York 2018, colocated with DXWorldEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City and will bring together Cloud Computing, FinTech and Blockchain, Digital Transformation, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, AI, Machine Learning and WebRTC to one location.
Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settlement products to hedge funds and investment banks. After, he co-founded a revenue cycle management company where he learned about Bitcoin and eventually Ethereal. Andrew's role at ConsenSys Enterprise is a mul...
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.
DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO are the world's most influential, independent events where Cloud Computing was coined and where technology buyers and vendors meet to experience and discuss the big picture of Digital Transformation and all of the strategies, tactics, and tools they need to realize their goals. Sponsors of DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO benefit from unmatched branding, profile building and lead generation opportunities.
Disruption, Innovation, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Leadership and Management hear these words all day every day... lofty goals but how do we make it real? Add to that, that simply put, people don't like change. But what if we could implement and utilize these enterprise tools in a fast and "Non-Disruptive" way, enabling us to glean insights about our business, identify and reduce exposure, risk and liability, and secure business continuity?