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"To Google" Is Officially a Verb: A Behind-the-Scenes History

The 11th edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary includes “googling” (lower case g)

We began sending letters to other dictionaries as well and received similar replies. We also took the pre-emptive step of running ads in journalism publications (reporters are another key decider of word usage) that read as follows:

Searching for the right word?

Please use Google to find it, but not to describe what you did.

With constant generic use, trademarks can lose their special status and their proper name capitalization. It’s happened to once-trademarked products including yo-yo, trampoline, and nylon. Trademark lawyers call it “genericide.” We call it avoidable.

Google™ is a trademark identifying Google Inc.’s search technology and services. We know Google is fun to say, and of course it’s great fun to use. And though we’re flattered that people like our name, it’s also our company’s chief commercial asset. We want to ensure that people use it in a way that preserves its meaning and integrity.

Google should never be used as a noun or a verb, or to mean “searching” in a non-specific, general sense. Here are some examples of appropriate and inappropriate uses of Google's trademark:

Appropriate
I used Google to check out that guy I met at the party.
Inappropriate
I googled that hottie.

Appropriate
We were looking for new MP3s with Google.
Inappropriate
We were googling ‘MP3s.’

Appropriate
He ego-surfs on Google to see if he's listed in the results.
Inappropriate
He googles himself..

Appropriate
They use Google to research the latest on lemurs.
Inappropriate
They google ‘lemurs.’

The distinction may be subtle, but it's a very important one to make. The choice of the right word often is. We're happy to answer any questions you may have about the proper use of the Google name. Write to us at legal@google.com.

We'll help you find just the words your searching for.

The ad was intentionally tongue-in- cheek and, at least in my mind, a tacit admission that it's much more fun to use Google as a verb than to use it properly. I mean, who wouldn't rather say, "I googled that hottie" than the legally-mandated, but dull-as-an-old-brogan alternative?

Though our efforts were occasionally disparaged by those who would prefer Google retain it’s warm fuzzy “just regular folks, no lawyers here” persona, the definitions of Google just published both properly cite the connection of “googling” to the Google search engine. I’m not an attorney, but as a brand manager, I wouldn’t be too upset about having authoritative printed support for the notion that Googling is correctly used only when tied directly to the company’s trademarked service.

Want to learn more about trademark protection? It's okay. Go ahead. Google it.


[This post appeared originally here on July 10, 2006 and is republished here in full by kind permission of the author, who retains full copyright.]

More Stories By Doug Edwards

From 1999 to 2005, Doug Edwards was was director of consumer marketing and brand management for Google. Other work experience includes stints as online brand group manager for the San Jose Mercury News, communications director for KQED FM, admission officer for Brown University and Novosibirsk correspondent for the public radio program Marketplace. He blogs at http://xooglers.com, a gathering spot for ex-Googlers to reminisce and comment on the latest developments in search.

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