Having the public use your company name as a verb is, in one way, a marketer’s Shangri-la. Many companies would kill for the name recognition and popularity of “xerox,” “google,” and “hoover.” For the companies themselves, though, being “verbed” has its dark side. A company that does not defend its trademark risks losing it when it becomes a common figure of speech, which explains why Google is not happy about its recent inclusion in a new Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary now includes the word “google,” which it defines as a verb (prediction: within a decade, it will also be an expletive, as in “go google yourself!”). Sensitive to the search engine’s concerns (and to its legal team), the dictionary does note that the word is trademarked. Dictionaries, news outlets, and websites that do not note this risk receiving a strongly-worded letter asking them to either remove the offending use of the term or note that it is trademarked.
Right now, “to google” actually means to use the Google search engine. Google no doubt fears that the world will go the way of “hoover,” which has become a generic term for “vacuum” in the UK. If “google” ever comes to mean “I searched for it on the Internet,” the company’s careful branding and promotion will be diluted and the name will lose value.
“Google” joins other up-and-comers in the new dictionary, sharing page space with words like “himbo” (male bimbo) and “mouse potato” (think couch potato, but with a computer). Although it has just made it into the dictionary, “google” has been on linguists’ radar screens for years. In 2002, for instance, it was judged the “most useful” new word of the year by the American Dialect Society.