Google calls in the 'language police'
By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Online
Google is now a verb, meaning to search. It sounds like the ultimate compliment to the company, so why do its lawyers want to keep the word out of our dictionaries?
Google is best known as an internet search engine but its tentacles have spread to range of other web applications.
There's Google News - a news portal; Google Webquotes - a database of sayings; Google Glossary - a catalogue of words and phrases; and the spin-off shopping site Froogle.
Yet amid all this activity there is one thing Google is trying to steer clear of - the dictionary.
In the US Google has mutated into a verb. Singletons will "google" a new boyfriend or girlfriend - run their name through a search engine - to check them out. People now talk about "googling" and "being googled".

On an episode of ER, shown on Channel 4 in the UK this week, colleagues of Dr Susan Lewis talked of "googling" her blind date.

And singer Robbie Williams says US women who initially reject his amorous advances often have a change of heart when they run his name through a search engine.
"I've since been told: 'That girl googled you because she knows who you are now.' So hurrah for googling!" says Williams. "Science got me laid."

But what's good news for Robbie is becoming a headache for folk at Google HQ. The company's lawyers are trying to stamp out this sort of language.
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.

It's like an inversion of that Oscar Wilde saying: "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."
Companies like Xerox, Kleenex, Portakabin and Rollerblade have teams of lawyers furiously firing off letters to media which mistakenly use their name in a generic sense.
It's all about protecting their brand, says Elizabeth Ward, a trade mark lawyer. "You have to see it in context of how much they spend on advertising. If you have a big, big brand such as Google you have to say what's that brand actually worth.
"Once it becomes just a word, it erodes the value of that brand."

For the likes of Google, Hoover's experience is a cautionary tale - it has essentially lost the exclusive right to its name.

"Its trade mark has not been removed," says Ms Ward, "but it seems that if Hoover were to contest its use as a generic then a court would remove it."
In fact, our language is littered with words that once used to be brands. Escalator, pogo, gunk and heroin are all examples, as is tabloid, which was originally registered by a drugs company in 1884 and came to mean "small tablet".
But the current obsession on building brand status has ushered in a new phase in language. So much so, that experts now fear trade mark lawyers are trying to police the otherwise natural evolution of the English diction.
Lexicographer Sidney I Landau, says dictionary publishers in the US are being bullied by lawyers to leave out words that are being freely spoken on the street.
"Dictionaries should reflect the use of words and their authors shouldn't be afraid to identify that and define it as generic," says Mr Landau.
"In future the effect might be to mislead people by only giving the trade mark meaning. The effect is to suppress a range of fairly common words and therefore censor part of the English language."

Ken Storey of the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys rejects the idea his members are acting as censors on what we say.
"Everyone has the right to protect a trade mark," he says.

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.
Some of your comments so far:
Google's concern is misplaced. To "google" is to use the Google service. It is not applied as a generic term for searching the web, and will not be as long as the Google search engine exists. Anyone using "google" as a verb only reinforces the brand, they don't dilute it. Mark Roberts, UK
This is another example of a proper noun becoming a common noun. For example, I've just had a sandwich, named after a man called Sandwich. But it happens the other way, too - just ask anyone called Smith, Cooper, or Carpenter. It's a natural part of the evolution of language, and as long as we distinguish between Google in specific, and googling in general, I can't see why Google should object.
Dave Owen, UK
I disagree that "to google" has taken off over here. It's widespread both within the IT community where I work, and in the peer group of my 11-year-old son.
Chris Sunderland, London, UK
I think that Google should pay the dictionary owners for the free advertising.
Adam Hamilton, Scotland
I've been using Google as a verb for a while now, so have many other people in the UK. But while I use it as a verb, it isn't really generic, as I use Google as my search engine of choice. When I say I'm going to google something, I look it up on Google.
Allen, UK
Just remember, if Google(TM) loses its trademark status, Microsoft (just for instance) might be free to launch "Microsoft Google", and all Google's hard work brand-building will be undone. That's what it's all about.
Tom Sillence, UK
Though I can see why Google has done this there are already precedents on the net. A very popular web site with technical people is www.slashdot.org. Articles posted on slashdot attract a huge readership, so much so that to be "slashdotted" is a recognised verb for being overwhelmed with traffic or to become popular.
Dave Barlow, UK
Story from BBC
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/uk news/3006486.stm

Published: 2003/06/20 13:20:44 GMT
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Google calls in the 'language police' By Jonathan Duffy BBC News Online Google is now a verb, meaning to search. It sounds like the ultimate compliment to the company, so why do its lawyers want to keep the word out of our dictionaries?

(snip article)
I was puzzled yesterday to see this plastered all over the windows of the local McDonald's:
i'm lovin' it TM
How can a colloquial English sentence be a trademark? What on earth, I mused, did the trademark application say?
The first-person singular of the present continuous of the verb "love" followed by the impersonal singular object pronoun "it" shall be a trademark of The McDonald's Corporation Inc., provided that (i) the first letter of the first word of such sentence is represented by a lower-case character; and (b) the final letter of the gerund form of the main verb is replaced by an apostrophe.
I then mused on, wondering whether any competing burger chain would be able to get away with any of the following with impunity:

I'm loving it!
i'm lovin' it me
i'm like you know lovin' it
i'm just lovin' it all
Yoda says, "lovin' it i am"
To stake a claim to such constructs as "Egg McMuffin" is one thing, but to assume and apparently be granted, astonishingly the right to do so with a non-product-specific English sentence, which could be, and is, uttered regularly by millions of people in all kinds of non-McContexts, is quite another.
Presumptuous pricks TM
**
Ross Howard
Google calls in the 'language police' By Jonathan Duffy BBC ... lawyers want to keep the word out of our dictionaries?

(snip article) I was puzzled yesterday to see this plastered all over the windows of the local McDonald's: i'm lovin' ... be, and is, uttered regularly by millions of people in all kinds of non-McContexts, is quite another. Presumptuous pricks TM

Reminiscent of the presumptuous pricks (c) at Fox news who tried to sue Al Franken for daring to use the phrase "fair and balanced" in the title of his latest book.
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Someone:
I think that Google should pay the dictionary owners for the free advertising.

Er.
Michael Hamm Since mid-September of 2003, BA scl Math, PBK, NYU I've been erasing too much UBE. (Email Removed) Of a reply, then, if you have been cheated, http://math.wustl.edu/~msh210/ Likely your mail's by mistake been deleted.
I was puzzled yesterday to see this plastered all over the windows of the local McDonald's: i'm lovin' it TM How can a colloquial English sentence be a trademark? What on earth, I mused, did the trademark application say?

Where do you live? A "TM" symbol in the States does not mean that a trademark has been applied for (although it doesn't mean it hasn't). It merely means that the company (or person) is claiming trademark rights whether that claim will be upheld is up to the courts (or, perhaps, some administrative court; I really don't know). (The "(R)" symbol means that the trademark is registered in the Trademark and Patent Office, or whatever it's called.)
Ianal,
Michael Hamm Since mid-September of 2003, BA scl Math, PBK, NYU I've been erasing too much UBE. (Email Removed) Of a reply, then, if you have been cheated, http://math.wustl.edu/~msh210/ Likely your mail's by mistake been deleted.
I was puzzled yesterday to see this plastered all over the windows of the local McDonald's: i'm lovin' it TM ... lower-case character; and (b) the final letter of the gerund form of the main verb is replaced by an apostrophe.

Ross, you might like to read up a bit on how trademarks really work. There's good stuff on the Web, like at the Nolo.com site.

No, nobody has to describe the ways some competitor might alter what they are registering. It would not be possible to dream up all the zillions of possibilities. Instead, there are standards worked out to measure whether someone else's use is "confusingly" close to what you registered.
I then mused on, wondering whether any competing burger chain would be able to get away with any of the ... lovin' it me i'm like you know lovin' it i'm just lovin' it all Yoda says, "lovin' it i am"

There's a very nice database called TESS of all US registered trademarks. You could search on a few. Go to
http://www.uspto.gov/main/trademarks.htm
and click on where it says
SEARCH trademarks
Then you are given several ways to search. The first will do.
To stake a claim to such constructs as "Egg McMuffin" is one thing, but to assume and apparently be ... be, and is, uttered regularly by millions of people in all kinds of non-McContexts, is quite another. Presumptuous pricks TM

You seem to think that getting a trademark gives you some kind of amazing total ownership over a phrase. What you'll see if you look into it a bit (instead of just huffing and puffing) is that you have to describe exactly how you will use this phrase like print it on T-Shirts and pencil-cases. Your protected status is limited to that use.
I just put "i'm lovin' it" into TESS; it shows four separate registations, all by the same Delaware company, for quite a few kinds of drinks and foods and for "restaurant services." So if you tried to print that slogan on your own line of home-bottled lemonade, yes, you might hear from their lawyers. But if you put it on a line of bicycle repair products, you wouldn't. Nor, of course, if you put it in a letter to your sister or chalked it on your pavement or used it to name your mystery novel.

Best Donna Richoux
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I'm not huffing and puffing. Having spent ten years as an advertising copywriter, I probably know more about advertising slogans than anyone else here.
(snip)
I just put "i'm lovin' it" into TESS;

(a trade-mark database)
it shows four separate registations, all by the same Delaware company, for quite a few kinds of drinks and foods ... in a letter to your sister or chalked it on your pavement or used it to name your mystery novel.

But that's my point. "i'm lovin' it" (sic) is not a product name; just like Nike's "Just do it" or Nokia's "Connecting people", it's just a slogan associated with an umbrella brand for a range of products. You can't or at least couldn't trademark a slogan that's composed of a string of ordinary English words in the UK, and I'd be very surprised if you can in Spain. Hence my huff and puff about the insanity of a world so corporatised that firms now feel entitled to treat what may come out of our mouths in any context as proprietary assets.
As far as I know, the letters "TM" don't even mean anything in Spain, since they stand for two words in a language that is not official here, where the equivalent term is marca registrada* and "i'm lovin' it" isn't a *marca; it's a sentence in a foreign language.

I maintain what I said earlier: Gilipollas presuntuosos TM

**
Ross Howard
In the US Google has mutated into a verb. Singletons will "google" a new boyfriend or girlfriend - run their ... shown on Channel 4 in the UK this week, colleagues of Dr Susan Lewis talked of "googling" her blind date.

Last night, on "NYPD Blue", a suspect was asked how he knew a former porn star's real name. "I googled her", he replied.
In the US Google has mutated into a verb. Singletons ... of Dr Susan Lewis talked of "googling" her blind date.

Last night, on "NYPD Blue", a suspect was asked how he knew a former porn star's real name. "I googled her", he replied.

Tsk, tsk, Coop. You're contributing to the dilution of the GOOGLE(R) trademark. I thought you were above that sort of thing, what with your care in not saying "COKE" when you mean "PEPSI".
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