Can Google Be a Verb?

woman thinking about Google searchAs is the case with many nouns in the English language, frequent usage dictates that Google has evolved to a status of both a noun and a verb.

As a noun, Google is a search engine you can use to find a variety of online information. As a proper noun (a specific person, place or thing) and a trademark, it is capitalized.

As a verb, google is the action of using the search engine Google to find information on the internet. When used as a verb, google can be capitalized or expressed in lowercase letters.

Example: If you want to know who founded Google, just google it!
(Answer: Larry Page and Sergey Brin, in case you really want to know.)

When it comes to grammar, I often say that I choose to not be on the forefront of change. But my research shows that google (lowercase) was officially considered a verb by the Oxford English Dictionary in June 2006. Adopting usage 12-plus years after it was considered acceptable is hardly on the forefront of change.

History: Google attempts to protect trademark
In 2013, Google took legal steps to stop Sweden’s Language Council from adding “ungoogleable” to its list of new words. Its meaning: something that can’t be found on the Web using a search engine — any search engine.

An attorney specializing in trademark rights and representing Google noted:

Ironically, because of Google’s “significant brand recognition,” the company has started down the path of becoming synonymous with search engine services and, accordingly, towards the genericization of a trademark.

Genericization? Who’s quibbling about language use here?

He pointed out that becoming a generic is bad, because it threatens a company’s legal right to a trademark. (A quiz in my book tests readers on brand names Band-Aid, Crock-Pot, Fiberglas, Formica, Jacuzzi, Jell-O, Kleenex, Popsicle and Q-tips.)

Google’s noun / verb concerns date to 2006
A Google blogger expressed the company’s concerns in a 2006 post about the use of Google as a verb:

A trademark is a word, name, symbol or device that identifies a particular company’s products or services. Google is a trademark identifying Google Inc. and our search technology and services. While we’re pleased that so many people think of us when they think of searching the web, let’s face it, we do have a brand to protect, so we’d like to make clear that you should please only use “Google” when you’re actually referring to Google Inc. and our services.

But a representative of Merriam-Webster countered this claim in the 2013 NBC article mentioned above:

There are three criteria for a word making it into the Merriam-Webster dictionary: Widespread usage of a word, “sustained use” and “meaningful use.

By the time we did the copyright printing of the Collegiate Dictionary for 2006, we had enough evidence in our files to show that the verb “google” had met all three criteria for entry. It’s worth noting that the verb “google” dates back to at least 1998, according to recent information we’ve gathered.

Google not the only brand to become a verb
These products became verbs decades ago. Using them as verbs in advertising jingles probably promoted their use in everyday language of the time.

1920s–‘30s Motorist wise, Simoniz (car wax)
1940s Hoovering or hoover up the carpet (clean with a Hoover vacuum cleaner)
1960s Ziebart your new car yet? (rustproofing)
1960s Go Krogering (shop at Kroger grocery stores)

Many definitions use examples to show that certain forms of a word might be nonstandard or incorrect.

For example, some sources say to capitalize Google whether using it as a noun or a verb because it’s a trademark (Associated Press). Other sources show it in lowercase as a verb (Oxford).

When you use Google / google as a verb, you have a choice. Make your decision and stay with it for consistency — at least throughout a blog, emails, an internal newsletter, or a corporate entity’s communications in general, as organizations often have differing internal style guides.

Google as a verb is entrenched in our everyday language. It’s recognized by, among others, Merriam-Webster, Oxford, Macmillan, Cambridge, and Wikipedia. Whether you google, googled, are googling, have googled or will google, join me in considering it an acceptable way to describe an online search.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

2 thoughts on “Can Google Be a Verb?

  1. AvatarCharles Molway

    There is no harm done to the English language when proper nouns develope a verb form, such as in your Google/google article, but I feel that we lose something when no distinction is made between bring/take, less/fewer, lack/dearth, stomach/abdomen, number/amount, mad/angry, etc.
    Yes, language will and must remain flexible, but must we always descend to the lowest common denominator? Am I being elitist to say that?

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      Charles, I agree that we lose when no distinction is made between the examples you listed — and many others. Careless use of language reflects negatively on the speaker/writer. I don’t like to be considered a language elitist either, but I try to be a good example for others — and to help those who strive to master Standard American English, which is considered the way educated people speak and write.

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