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  • Google rules that google isn't a word

    Giant Google to take over English language

    Google.com has been working since 1998 to become everybody’s favorite internet search engine, but now that google has become not just a window on our desktops but a household word as well, the company has instructed its lawyers to stop us from using "google" as a verb.  Not to be outdone, Apple Computer wants us to stop using "pod" because Apple owns the rights to the iPod.
    Critics of Apple’s attempt to corner yet another pod market argue that pod was a word centuries before the company stuck an “i” on it.  But google is a new word, and while there are other search engines, there are no other googles either in nature or in cyberspace. 
    The name "google" was invented as a play on "googol," which means 10 raised to the power of one hundred, and the company wants its URL to suggest the vast amount of information that google.com sorts for us.  Fortunately the inventor of googol didn’t trademark his word when he thought it up in 1940, or google.com might be defending itself in court instead of threatening the rest of us with lawsuits.
    Corporations own their trademarks – no one disputes that.  And no one disputes the fact that trademarks based on common words, like "monopoly" or "apple," can always be used in their ordinary, noncommercial sense, by anybody.  But people who use trademarked names as if they were ordinary nouns and verbs are likely to be told to cease and desist by the legal department.

    Google shouldn’t be surprised that its name has become a verb.  It seems to me that the company intentionally reconfigured googol to make it look like an English verb on the order of wiggle, boggle, frazzle, juggle and meddle.  Even if that’s not the case, so verb-like has google become that Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary define Google with a capital “g” as a verb meaning ‘to find information on the Web.’  To the dictionary-makers, half a billion English speakers around the world can’t be wrong.
    But google.com is afraid that these same English-speakers, in their rush to search the internet, will forget the salient fact that the company actually “owns” its own name, that they will wind up googling on a competitor’s product.  After all, office workers xerox documents on photocopiers made by Canon, Konica, and Hewlett-Packard, a fact I was able to confirm just now by googling "xerox."
    It may seem ironic that corporations desperately want their product names to be on everybody’s lips, but once a name enters common use they retaliate to protect their trademark.  They do so because losing trademark status translates into loss of revenue, since others will be able to market a product with the same name.  That’s just what happened to many generic terms that once were trademarks – like zipper, aspirin, and shredded wheat.  Even Webster’s has become generic for “dictionary,” but no dictionary will tell you this because they’re afraid that someone else who publishes one of the dictionaries actually named Webster’s might sue.
    Trademark or not, speakers of English tend to use words however they like, which is why some product names become generic and others don’t.  When I was growing up in the 1950s, every camera was a kodak no matter who made it.  But Kodak missed the 35-millimeter revolution and all of a sudden kodak stopped being generic, though it’s still a trademark today.
    Apple can’t stop us from using pod, a word which suggests beans and little space ships to me, as it probably did to Steve Jobs, and like it or not, google was born to be a verb.  Google execs should be happy that we’re googling, not suing us for doing so.  Furthermore, if Google loses the top spot in the volatile technology market, its revenues will fall with or without trademark protection.  In that case, Google.com can content itself with the chagrin that archrival Yahoo and Microsoft surely feel, and the next hi-tech upstart will discover, when we stubbornly continue googling with their trademark-protected search engines.

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