'Basically Google is afraid of getting hoovered.'
'Aren't they more afraid of getting xeroxed?'
'They'll have to take an aspirin and wipe their tears with a kleenex.'
'And then sellotape over the cracks.'
- Forum comments, reddit.com
This week the Indie reported, with tears of joy in its terror-plot-clogged eyes, on the latest legal foofawraw Google have to their funny name. Having cottoned onto the fact that many individuals now use said name as a verb, with its proud capital G brought low, they've been forced into action. (The people who invented 'cotton' gave up years ago.) In order to protect the trademark they've spent years building up, Google lawyers are firing off 'cease and desist's to journalists who employ the new verb 'to google'. Obviously, we can't avoid doing it here. But also we have the devil in us and can't resist a bit of attorney-baiting. I googled, they googlad, he/she/it googlered. Googley googlement goo goo ga chooble.
It's not the newest of news - as far back as 2003 'Google' was being touted as a neologism, but now they've had enough of that malarkey. (This despite the fact that the verb 'to google' is now in at least two dictionaries including the OED, which kind of suggests their google is cooked, already.) It's their own fault; an inevitable side-effect of the kind of meta-megastardom and ubiquity that, to be fair, a couple of Californian PhD students could hardly have conceived of. But they did name their pioneering internet search facility something irresistible, that rolls off the tongue with giddy joy. There was always the potential for it to get co-opted, especially when it's yoked to this amazing thing that we honestly can't remember a world without.
In many ways, it's like the holy grail of branding. Manufacturers have bust their collective ass to try and finagle their product names into our daily speech. There was the Jewson campaign, where a man in an orangey tunic would go on about 'Jewson plasterboard, Jewson tacks, the Jewson lot!' until you felt like he'd been Jewson hammering you with a Jewson hammer. It was like some new swear word, ready-made for when you managed to mangle your thumb in a Jewson door hinge. 'It Jewson hurts!' And there was poor Sarsons with their head-shakingly pathetic 'Don't say vinegar, say Sarsons' exhortation. Er... no. But imagine the implications if more trademarks wormed their way into common usage. We'd be reading reports such as 'An elderly woman was viciously tango'd by a gang of hooded youths in Birmingham city centre'. At the moment, the only brand making any real headway to that end that we can think of is Cillit BANG, but it's not sinking gently into daily discourse so much as it's poking it rudely from behind. You can't really make a sentence including the words 'Cillit BANG', you just stand on a chair and shout 'Cillit BANG!' It's like the Chuck Norris of branding. It never sleeps, it just *waits*.
A very few brands have fallen victim to their own overwhelming success, and been swept away into the sea of the national consciousness. Casualties include velcro, nylon, yo-yo and trampoline, as well as the most obvious hoover and sellotape. See how sad they look in this context? Someone nurtured them, loved them, made them what they are. And then they were snatched away and used like... kleenex. There is certainly a point where ubiquity becomes a curse, and doubtless someone's writing a really tedious book about the phenomenon right now. Just woebetide them if they try and call it 'The Google Effect'.
Google's growling possessiveness is a bit po-faced but fair enough, because any company must take steps to protect its name. Even though it is pointless to try and stem the eager tide of the mighty and mutable English language (sorry, the French, but 'sandwich' is still a better word than 'two slices of bread with stuff inbetween'). However, the other issue is that a journalist using 'google' as a verb in print just sounds awfully *gauche*. It's like showing your workings, dirtying up your margins with scribble - surely people still want to believe that journalists crouch before whatever the plural of 'microfiche' is (microfish?) and huddle in library reading rooms leafing through hefty archive folders? There was an interesting, if rather priggish, article in the Independent's Sunday Review a few weeks ago carping about how journalists don't research any more, they just google, and the nature of googling means that you don't root out strange old information but merely the same five bits of information everyone else's cursory googling has unearthed. This may be true, although we do take care to push our googling a little further than the front page, but whatever, we don't really think it's the done thing to go round including derivations of the verb 'to google' in our work. Maybe it's just pomposity on our part, some high and mighty notion of ourselves as conduits of Truth that simply flows through us without recourse to such earthbound fripperies as (snort) *search engines*. Yeah, that sounds about right. Still, you shouldn't show your googling any more than you should flash your knickers in your column header photo.
The good besieged libs of the media will still get the hump about any outside insistence that we might not ought to use a certain word. Lean too hard on the press about their right to lower-case google, and you may find that all kinds of repressed stuff squirts out at the sides like so much apricot jam. It'll start with rants against big business forgetting its humble roots and will end in some godforsaken alley of political correctnesses past. (Any Christians have a problem with our lower casing of 'god' in 'godforsaken'? Let us know!)
It is a bit of a sad indictment of how jealously every idea is guarded now, when we seem to dimly recall an age when the things frolicked lamb-like in open meadows of free discourse. We're now entering a new phase of figuring out what we can and can't say in terms of Googlage. What about if you add some extra 'O's in the middle like at the bottom where it says 'Gooooooooogle'? By any objective standard that is *not* the same word. Are they planning to call legal bagsies on the letter 'O'? Does anyone own the letter 'O'? Can they? Where will that leave us? N*where. Without a h**ver.
Incidentally, this may be of interest to one Milton Sirotta (whose name we're totally having for a pseudonym), nephew of US mathematician Edward Kasner, and who charmingly at the age of nine first used the word 'googol'. This is the word for ten raised to the power of a hundred, a cardinal number represented as 1 followed by 100 zeros. Thus he was the original inspiration for the Google we know and love. He should be 77 now. We googled him. Oh fuck. Sorry.