According to this article by Jonathan Duffy at BBC News Online, Google is taking vigorous legal action to keep people from listing “google” as a lower-case vocabulary item; their fear is, of course, that their trademark will go the way of escalator, pogo, gunk, heroin, and tabloid.

Paul McFedries, who runs the lexicography site Word Spy, received a stiffly worded letter from the firm after he added “google” to his online lexicon.
The company asked him to delete the definition or revise it to take account of the “trade mark status of Google”. He opted for the latter.
Google’s problem is one of the paradoxes of having a runaway successful brand. The bigger it gets, the more it becomes part of everyday English language and less a brand in its own right.
Just as we talk about “hoovering” instead of vacuuming, people have started to say “google” to mean search. The word has become an eponym.

At the end of the article comes this interesting twist:

In Britain people may feel they want to seize the opportunity for free speech while they still can. The verb “to google” has yet to take off on this side of the Atlantic, but it seems Brits could use it with impunity for the time being, says Liz Ward.
That’s because in Europe, at least, Google’s trade mark is still pending.

I imagine that in the near future dictionaries will follow Word Spy’s lead and include a note about the legal status of the word:

google (GOO.gul) v. To search for information on the Web, particularly by using the Google search engine; to search the Web for information related to a new or potential girlfriend or boyfriend. (Note that Google™ is a trademark identifying the search technology and services of Google Technologies Inc.)

(Thanks for the tip, Maureen! Oh, and I’d like to take this opportunity to note that Google™ is a trademark identifying the search technology and services of Google Technologies Inc. And I’d also like to point out that my Google™ hits have dropped to almost nothing since I switched from Blogger to MT. Could this have anything to do with the fact that Google™ bought Blogger? You be the judge.)


  1. It’s funny, I’ve often heard the example of “Hoovering” given to demonstrate trademark erosion; but have never heard “Hoover” used as a verb except when being given such examples. Is its use really that widespread?

  2. It’s a British thing. The OED has “v. trans., to clean with a Hoover (or, by extension, any vacuum cleaner). Also intr.“; however, there’s not even an entry in Merriam-Webster’s or the American Heritage. Threats from the company? Who knows?

  3. I had a great-aunt who used “hoover” as a verb. My sisters and I found this hilarious. Granted, this was in Canada. But then, the great-aunt was actually American. In fact, we thought “hoovering” was some sort of tragi-comic death-of-a-salesman American thing…

  4. vaccuming was to remove or evacuate air from a sealed container and hoovering was to remove the dirt from the carpet: You mean there are other meanings? (just kidding?maybe) With this googling the ether and gogling the tele(box) the Internet is goeing to to spoil all the fun: It will be so blah and we will spek the same patois and may even communicate, besides communing: Cor blime wat a bloody mess:

  5. (hi steve!) Don’t they know Buffy already had “googled” as a verb? Once something’s been verbed on Buffy, forget it.
    I actually say “hoovered” — but in a deliberately comic way, like “He hoovered up the cookies.” I am not, as far as I know, Canadian.

  6. I’m kind of a shut-in, don’t get out much, but I thought “hoover” was a noun, as in “Matt rolled a hoover.” I could be wrong.

  7. I second the use of “hoovering” to mean “devouring rapidly” — I never thought of it to mean vacuuming in the literal sense, only figurative.

  8. 3rd usage. “Bush is sure submitting the republic to some heavy-duty hoovering.”

  9. Blogger is trademarked too I think…
    Xerox, Kleenex, Coke, scotch tape, post its…
    All successful brand names that have entered the language as successful words. I’d think google would be proud to have had that kind of impact on the world.

  10. We don’t Scotch Tape in UK/Europe, we Sellotape. I am convinced that the brand name came from the word “cellotape”, from the combination of “cellulose” and “tape”. I know that my grandfather spelt it “cellotape” because he used to pun on the musical instrument. But I can find no dictionary or encyclopaedia reference to the word. Does anyone know if it really exists?

  11. I feel sorry for the Beeb and Google both:

  12. Thanks, ben. For those who don’t want to wade through the entire /. discussion, here’s the best part (informative message by aiken_d followed by hilarious ad description by pclminion and Spam-preparation report by Didion Sprague and response by mog):
    never work (Score:5, Insightful)
    by JohnG (93975) on Tuesday February 25, @05:46PM (#5382073)
    The post office has been pretty peeved over the usage and meaning of the term “Going Postal”, but haven’t had much success stopping it’s usage. The makers of Spam the meat haven’t been to thrilled with it’s usage when referring to junk email either, but haven’t stopped it. Even if Google gets “to google” out of the lexicon, it will still be used rampantly. The only thing they will accomplish is making themselves look like asses for complaining in the first place.
    Re:never work (Score:5, Informative)
    by aiken_d (127097) on Tuesday February 25, @05:54PM (#5382203)
    Actually, Hormel has given up on the spam thing. They used to say that it was OK to use the work in lower case to refer to junk email, but would actively contact and even threaten folks using it in its capitalized form. However, they’ve apparently decided that any publicity is good publicity.
    Google’s intent here is clearly to protect their trademark — they don’t really have a choice. If they aquiesce and agree that “to google” is a generic word and not a brand reference, you can bet that Inktomi and Overture-those-fraudulent-bastards-it’s-a-classified-ad-engine-not-a-search-engine will call their offerings “Googlers” or something similar. Which would be a moral victory for Google, but perhaps a commercial disaster.
    [ Parent ]
    Re:never work (Score:5, Funny)
    by pclminion (145572) on Tuesday February 25, @06:21PM (#5382509)
    However, they’ve apparently decided that any publiclity is good publicity.
    Have you seen their recent TV ad, with the guy at the dinner table who turns to the camera, puts on the funniest shit-eating grin you can imagine, and screams “MORE SPAM!!!!” Then a truck carrying Spam(TM) crashes through the wall into the dining room.
    Kind of like spam mail crashing into your inbox, interrupting whatever you were currently in the middle of doing… It’s a brilliant ad.
    Spam: My Review (Score:5, Funny)
    by Didion Sprague (615213) on Tuesday February 25, @06:41PM (#5382726)
    I watched the ad and went out and bought some Spam (TM).
    First, Spam comes in a neat can. It’s curved and low-to-the-ground. I like that. It’s very appealing to purchase something and actually like the way it’s packaged. I consider this a successful purchase.
    Next, the can opens easily. Again: this is a good thing. The little pull-tab is nice.
    Now, I expected lots of Spam juice to come dripping out when I yanked off the top, but I was pleased to see that no Spam juice flew forth.
    Even better, the spam actually *filled* the can. It’s not like a bag of potato chips. Open the bag and you’re lucky to see fifteen chips.
    Spam is most definitely “old-school” when it comes to packaging: they have a product, have a nice can, and fill the can with the product. Thumbs up, boys.
    There are recipes on the side of the can. Better still, the recipes are fairly easy to make. I opted for the “fried Spam”. The recipe indicated that I should scramble some eggs. I did this, toasted some Butternut Texas toast (thick slices of bread, in case you’re not sure what ‘Texas Toast’ is), and then got my tried-and-true non-stick frying pan (lots of teflon for those of us who, like myself, have no idea what ‘seasoning a skillet’ means and so buy into the non-stick hype.)
    Out of the can, Spam is a little on the pinkish side. It definitely needed some “color” (as they say) before it was completely palatable. I’m sure raw Spam would taste no different than cooked Spam, but I wasn’t sure about the level of processing Spam underwent, so — in the interested of safety — I fried thin slices until they were dark brown and slightly burnt at the edges.
    I slid the Spam onto the plate (thanks to teflon), slid the eggs onto the plate, and pulled the two pieces of Texas toast from the toaster. I slathered some *real butter* on the toast, cut it in triangles like they do at all fine restaurants, and went to sit in my favorite chair. I had to leave the food for a moment and go back into the kitchen because I forgot my Red Bull. But when I went back to the plate, the Spam was still warm, the eggs were perfect, and the butter had melted into my toast.
    The fried Spam — pork shoulder and ham — was good. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t like Jimmie Dean sausage flavored with maple syrup. And it certainly wasn’t like Pigs-in-blankets (pancakes wrapped around sausage) but it was damn good. It was a little bland. But it had texture — a lot of it — and felt good when I chewed.
    The sweet, medicinal Red Bull sorta cast a pall on the otherwise good meal, but Red Bull at breakfast is a necessity for me, so I didn’t have much choice.
    Re:Spam: My Review (Score:4, Funny)
    by mog (22706) on Tuesday February 25, @07:03PM (#5382930)
    You, sir, have managed to make a story about SPAM interesting. I applaud you, and I applaud SPAM!
    Unfortunately, to celebrate you, I thought it fitting to take down SpamAssassin for a brief moment. Now I have a sore .. member .., a computer full of rather unpleasant porn, and my entire estate now belongs to the Nigerians. What a world!

  13. I suspect Hoover is a regionalism here and perhaps more widely used in Britain. I only heard the word as being slightly archaic here and/or used by a friend from Kansas.
    I can’t find my old Jive dictionary, dammit, so I can’t answer the “dig you later” question. Rats!

  14. It’s copacetic, man.

  15. Um, back to ‘hoover’ and Canadians. I’m an Australian trying to write a story set in Toronto, as though I were a Canadian. Can I use ‘hoover’ as a verb, or will that sound wrong? It is metaphoric rather than literal. . .

  16. [annoying spam deleted]

  17. I like this site. I don’t like spam. I say “lets google it” when arguing. I hoover my room. Everyone I know says, ” I am going to hoover my room”. Mr Dyson, the inventor of the “Dyson”, the world’s first bagless hoover, sorry ‘vacuum’, once said, “I would be delighted if people stopped saying “I am going to hoover my room”, and started saying, “I am going to go and dyson my room.” I think Google should be celebrating.

  18. Yes Mike, but this isn’t about fame, its about money. Endless fame does the google-bugs not one iota of good, but mucho dinero, another story.

  19. May I throw in a couple of puns on Hoover?
    Legend has it that a schoolchild once wrote, “Queen Elizabeth [Tudor] could never get any peace of mind because of Mary Queen of Scots hoovering in the background.”
    And Ernestine, the telephone operator portrayed by Lily Tomlin, closed a conversation with a Mr Jedgar Hoover with the remark, “Everyone knows there’s nothing like a Hoover for picking up dirt.”

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