Late last year, the Swedish Language Council published a report of words that had entered the Swedish lexicon in 2012. Among them was ogooglebar – ungoogleable, in English. This did not please Google. In fact, according to the Council (you'll need to enable Google Translate, unless you speak Swedish), Google promptly wrote representatives for the organization, and asked them to remove the word.
The Council duly fired back – "we decide together which words should be and how they are defined, used and spelled," reads a defiant post on the Council website – and the ensuring furor has made Ungoogleable Gate front page news even in the US. So what's Google's problem? Well, to put it simply, Google is worried that if everyone starts using the word "google" as a lower-case verb or noun, it will dilute the name.
As John C. Dvorak of PC Mag suggests today, an analogue here is Kleenex, which is a brand name, but which is often used to describe all tissue. (Other examples: Band-Aid or Xerox.) In fact, a few years ago, Kleenex embarked on its own campaign to make sure Kleenex is referred to correctly in the media. In an advertisement that still appears – in a slightly different form – in the Columbia Journalism Review, Kleenex requested that the product always be identified as a trademarked entity.
"You don’t need a Social Security number to get your identity stolen," the ad pleaded. "When you spend nearly a century building a name that people know and trust, the last thing you want is people calling any old tissue a Kleenex® Tissue. Simply put, ‘Kleenex’ is a brand name and should always be followed by an ® and the word ‘Tissue.’ Please help us keep our identity, ours."
It's worth noting that Google did in fact succeed in getting the Swedish Language Council to remove ogooglebar from its list. And far be it from us to tell Google how to spend its energy. But surely this is a losing battle in the long term – google (lower case, not upper case) and its various iterations are already a popular slang term in dozens of languages, including English. It's going to be pretty difficult to reverse that trend.
But back to John C. Dvorak: "When a new usage appears in the public domain, own it and make it brand associative," he writes in his PC World post. "This could all be done through a small advertising campaign with a tagline like 'When I tell you to Google something, you use Google, of course!' After that, the word goes into the lexicon and only refers to using Google, not doing a generic search. Problem solved."
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[Editor's note: The original version of this article misidentified Mr. Dvorak's publication. He writes for PC Mag.]