The minute he heard someone use “I googled him” in a sentence, Robert Beard, president of Lexiteria, which publishes alphaDictionary.com, knew the word was likely to be a keeper.
“It’s a very good sign,” he told TechNewsWorld, “when a word assumes its own characteristics. When it expands or contracts in meaning, for instance, it has a good chance of staying in our vocabulary.”
The ultimate — and official — indication that a word has reached that level of acceptance, of course, is its inclusion in a respected dictionary. That has just happened with “google.”
It is now grammatically correct to use “google” as a transitive verb — lower case “g” — according to the latest edition of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Words With Tech Origins
That “google” made it into the dictionary is not much of a surprise. Given the way technology has invaded every aspect of everyday life, tech-inspired words are entering the general discourse, and eventually dictionaries, at a more rapid pace than new words ever did in the past.
Look at “multitask,” says Beard, who is also a professor emeritus and linguistics expert at Bucknell University. “Not that long ago, it used to refer just to software. Now it can mean any task.”
“Podcast” and “blog” — and their variations — are other examples.
Other new words included in the new edition of Merriam Webster, which is set for fall release, include “spyware,” “mouse potato,” and “ringtone.”
What will be more telling, Beard says, is whether “to google” will be as familiar an expression in 10, or even five, years as it is now. Unlike “podcast” or “blog,” “google” is also the name of a specific company, which could — although it seems inconceivable now — be acquired or go out of business, Beard pointed out.
It is also possible that the word could just fall out of favor. “Such things do happen,” he observed.
“Barnumize,” for example, has been replaced by “hype,” and “to bogart” has become overshadowed by “to hog.” These days, not many people use “bork,” (a reference to erstwhile Supreme Court nominee, Robert Bork) to mean blindsided or ambushed.
“I thought that the last one would surely stick, but it seems to have slipped badly,” Beard says.
“Barnumize” is based on the name of the original American hype artist, P. T. Barnum, famous for his circus, while “bogart,” of course, is a reference to Humphrey Bogart. It originally meant to keep a cigarette in your mouth all the time, but over time it slipped, Beard explained, to a more general meaning: overindulge.
Robert Bork is a Yale law professor who was nominated by the Republicans for the Supreme Court in 1987 but then saw his candidacy sunk by a vigorous campaign launched by Democrats.
“You heard this word well into the 1990s as a general term for ‘to screw someone over,'” said Beard. “You can still find it in Microsoft’s Encarta dictionary, but other dictionaries have pulled it — if they included it in the first place.”
As Common as Kleenex
Like Bork himself, the company named “Google” is unlikely to be thrilled that its name has made it into the dictionary — albeit for different reasons. Google has expressed concern in written communications that its brand name could go the way of “kleenex” or “xerox” for instance — once trademarked products that eventually become generic names for tissue paper and photocopying.
Google probably has a point. While Merriam-Webster defines “googling” as using “the Google search engine to obtain information on the World Wide Web,” Beard notes that it could easily refer to any search engine or process.
“It doesn’t specifically mean that person is searching Google for information any more,” he remarked.
Other companies, though, see their corporate name’s entry into the language as a plus.
“It’s exciting to see your company name become a description,” Nick Fuller, communications manager for GoDaddy, told TechNewsWorld.
“We enjoyed watching the term ‘GoDaddy-esque’ become a word for something that’s fun and edgy,” he said.