Friday, August 25, 2006


Existential Friday: can you be so successful that you simply disappear?

Mr. Verb reports here that Google has pressured a leading German dictionary to delete an entry defining "to google" as a generic term meaning to look up on the internet.

Why do people say "google it" when they mean "look it up on a web browser"? Because Google is the dominant web browser. It's a good product/service, and it's a fun and easy word to say. Much better than "ask-dot-com-it" or "metacrawlit."

So why would Google fight getting such a nice tribute in a dictionary?

Apparently, a brand name can lose trademark protection if it becomes a generic word. Talk about being hoist on the petard of your own success!

But Google is being pretty dumb here. The appearance of the verb "to google" in the dictionary is not what makes the word generic. That's simply one form of evidence of language usage. The real proof is in the spoken language itself -- the millions of conversations of ordinary people. And you can prove that without a dictionary. Is Google going to sue all of us to stop us from saying "google it"?

As Mr. Verb himself would say, "language changes -- deal with it!"

* * *
Hey, wait a minute... links to Mr. Verb??? That's right! Columnist Manifesto commenter extraordinaire Mr. Verb has taken his act and started his own blog! Check it out.

Again, that's Verb... Mr. Verb.

Google is just following standard practices when it comes to protecting trade names. Both Kimberly-Clark and Johnson & Johnson have had close brushes with losing their trade names (Kleenex and Band-Aid, respectively).

And if you're wondering, the first such product to lose its trade name was Aspirin.

fnltfxl - "fun light Fexil" - a new version of the ever-popular drug Fexil, which was found to help people cheer up and lose weight while remaining faithful to their spouses. From the makers of Paxil.
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