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to search for something on the Internet, especially using the Google™ search engine
'Last week, with the new year on the horizon, I Googled the top ten resolutions to help me prepare my answer for the question of the day.'San Diego Reader 6th January 2010
'Earlier this year, I woke up with the mother of all toothaches. It was not just an uncomfortable twinge, it felt like I'd had a nocturnal tussle with a champion boxer and lost … Having Googled my symptoms, I feared the worst …'Daily Mail 22nd December 2009
Since brand-new words – words which have never been seen before in any shape or form – account for less than 1% of neologisms, it's perhaps surprising that just such a creation was recently named 'Word of the Decade' by the American Dialect Society. When you discover however that the aforementioned winner was the word google, the decision does not seem quite so unexpected.
there is little doubt that having access to the biggest single repository of information ever invented, the World Wide Web, has transformed our lives … Google … embodies a concept which has become common practice in everyday life
In the 20th annual vote, google the verb, used as a generic reference to the activity of 'searching the Internet', beat a range of nominees to be crowned word of the decade. Among the other candidates were terms that encapsulated other significant preoccupations of the last ten years, such as green in its ecological sense, 9/11 in reference to the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, and wifi as an abbreviation of wireless fidelity. Runner up was the word blog which, though a worthy candidate, was thought to have ultimately lost out because of its 'ugliness' and more restricted functionality – in the words of Grant Barrett, chair of the New Words Committee: '… more people google than blog, don't they?'
But there is one other reason for google's lexical success – namely its capacity for derivation and extension. Starting at the beginning of the decade with activity noun googling and nominalisation googler (a person who googles), we then moved on to the curious practice of Googlewhacking (=trying to find search queries which return one single result – personally, I can think of more appealing ways to while away a few minutes), followed by fridge Googling or google cooking (=looking for a recipe by googling the contents of your fridge or kitchen cupboards). Towards the end of the decade our self-obsession gave us the googlegänger (=a person who is not you but pops up in the search results when you google your own name). And as online identity became more significant, being googleable (=found when entered as a Google™ search) was considered desirable, which in turn gave us the quality of googleability (=a measure of how easy it is to find someone or something by googling) and the potential to be ungoogleable. And so the list goes on, all such wordplay helping to anchor the term google more firmly into our consciousness.
The first appearance of the word google dates back to 1998, when Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two Stanford PhD students, perfected an advanced technique for finding information on the Web and thereby founded Google™ Inc.
Like Hoover and Thermos before it, google is an example of what linguists refer to as an eponym, a name which begins to function as a generic description of a concept. As the examples show, eponyms are often based on trademarks or brand names, though the eponymous use of google was considered a mixed blessing by Google™ Inc, who feared it would jeopardize its trademarked status. Google the verb has nevertheless made it into a number of mainstream dictionaries, first appearing in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006. In an attempt to tread the middle ground, lexicographers have tended to list the verb with lower-case g, whilst maintaining the capitalization of the search engine's name in their definition. In practice, as the examples above illustrate, the capitalized use of the verb is very common and there is little doubt that google / Google is well on its way to being a generic reference for 'searching the web' in much the same way that hoover is a general term for 'using a vacuum cleaner'.
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This article was first published on 27th January 2010.
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