An act of Google

Lezlie Lowe internet searches you.

illustration Jesse

Don’t let Google Google you writing anything in your blog about Googling. The internet search engine megacorp, whose corporate motto is (suddenly ironically) “Don’t be evil,” is feeling a tad litigious.

Last week, Google sent cease-and-desist letters to media organizations (at least, UK daily paper The Independent claims so in an online piece which a handful of other media organizations and bloggers have picked up on; no word who’s received them) warning that the term Google, thank you very much, is not a verb, as in “Dude, did you Google me?” but a plain old proper noun.

Bollocks, I say. Google is certainly a mighty force in the digital realm, but an arbiter of language it is not. Google can pitch a tantrum all it likes. I’m not listening. And neither should you.

Google is a fine verb.

It sounds good. Google. Google. Gooooogle. It’s like clang! and pop!, tchotchke and flummoxed. It’s a robust verb, too, like cluster, boondoggle and gallop. Google rolls off the tongue and looks good on the page. Any writing instructor worth her red pencil marks will tell you to use strong simple verbs. I ask you, which sounds better: “I searched the internet for Omnichords,” or “I Googled Omnichords.”(“I Yahooed Omnichords,” is just plain preposterous.)

Google is a useful verb too, and that’s crucial. We’ve never before had a single word that describes the action of Googling. (You’ll note, I prefer indicating the brand name source of the verb by using the upper case G, though when Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary included the verb for the first time in July, it preferred the lower case “g.”)

We need this verb, just like we need a simple word for the phrase “called using voice over Internet protocol.” My pick and most often used verb for that term is Skyped. “I Skyped my mum.” “I Skyped Sarah.” Does Skype mind? I don’t care a fig. The internet is placing linguistic demands on us, and we need to pony up and figure out the simplest, most direct ways to talk about the things we do everyday—things we didn’t do 20 years ago. Nor dreamed of.

Right now, brand name or not, “Google” fits. And Google can’t change that. A company can’t deny the course of natural linguistic development.

“Bad hair day” is a noun phrase in my Canadian Oxford Dictionary, so is “lipstick lesbian,” “BC Bud” and “sticky,” as in a Post-it note. “Bling,” no doubt, is on its way. How do these phrases and words make it in? They get used. And then they get used more. And more. And more. And their meaning becomes ubiquitous. And what do they show? Not merely the meaning of the words themselves. They reflect changes in our culture and our values.

In the case of Google, the verb is revealing the impact of a corporate giant on our world. It’s the same as calling a cola “a Coke” and a bandage “a Band-Aid” and a facial tissue “a Kleenex” (all of which makes me suspect this whole business is a ploy by Google to get more people to use their brand name as a generic verb).

I have my own cease-and-desist message for Google.

Dear Googleheads: Hormel Foods didn’t get a say on SPAM luncheon meat’s rechristening as the most vile of internet fiends (that is, spam), and you don’t get a say about your brand name either. You might be in charge of the internet (and, who are we joking, Google is), but you’re not in charge of language. So stick that in your Google and Google it.

What do yooooooou think? Email:

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