Google vs. 'Ungoogleable': The battle of the verb

In an interesting twist, Google's attempt to discourage the use of its brand name as a verb will backfire and immortalize the word on its own search engine.

Perhaps sensing that the tech industry is short on absurdly ironic news items, Google recently challenged the definition of the officially recognized Swedish word "ogooglebar," which translates into English as "ungoogleable."

According to a PC Magazine report, the word was part of a list of new Swedish words published in December by the Swedish Language Council. The definition upon which the council had agreed was not specific to Google's search engine, but instead defined items that can not be found through search engine technology in general. That prompted Google's attempt, meant to protect trademark of the term, to persuade the council to specify that "ogooglebar" applies only to items that cannot be found through Google's search engine, as opposed to Bing or Alta Vista.

The Swedish Language Council was not happy with Google's request, and instead announced that it would delete the term from the list altogether out of its distate for Google's attempt to manipulate the Swedish language.

"Google has wooed [the] Language Council to amend the definition of the word ogooglebar the new order list," a translated Swedish Language Council statement published by PC World reads. "Today we instead delete the word and mark ... our displeasure with Google's attempt to control the language."

It's a surprising, and futile, move by Google. The company has long discouraged the use of its brand name as a verb, and has apparently been successful in establishing its brand-exclusivity in the English language - the Wikipedia page for Google (verb) declares "the transitive verb to google (also spelled Google) is using the Google search engine to obtain information on something or somebody on the World Wide Web." Google, after what turned into a high-profile challenge of the use and spelling of the verb "to google," even convinced the publishers of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary to make the term lower case and specify that "to google" means to use only Google's search engine.

But the real irony is how the definition of the word "ungoogleable" will evolve from here. While Google may have gotten Merriam-Webster to change its definition, how many people are aware of that? In the seven years since Google published its plea to the public to "please only use 'Google' when you're actually referring to Google Inc.," how many people have actually listened? Are there actually people out there who would correct me if I said I "googled" something if, in whatever bizarre scenario this would be, I actually used Bing? If there are, don't introduce them to me; we wouldn't get along.

At the same time, the unintended publicity Google elicited as a result of its plea to the Swedish Language Council has resulted in a handful of response blogs and news articles forever immortalizing both "ungoogleable" and "ogooglebar" as terms widely read on the internet. Now, if someone searches those words on Google - or googles them on Bing or Alta Vistas them on Ask Jeeves or whatever - those words will always show up.

Google wants to discourage people from using its brand name as a verb. Now, as a result of its most recent attempt to do so, it will be perpetuating the use of its brand name as a verb on its own website. Had Google never bothered the Swedish Language Council, this article never would have shown up on Google.

And no one seems to understand this better than the Swedish Language Council, whose statement explains that this is exactly why they made the announcement in the first place.

"Google has namely forgot one thing: language development do not care about brand protection. No individual can decide about the language," the statement reads. "Whoever in the future googling on ogooglebar will not only find the wording that Google wanted to change, and that will remain online despite Language Council amended the list. Anyone looking will also find all the possible comments that follow after the news spread that word removed. That is how the internet world works."

That, indeed, is how the internet world works. Who would have thought that's a lesson Google would need to learn from an obscure language authority in Sweden?

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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