Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Google Eyed

By ROBERT RECTOR The folks over at Merriam-Webster, the dictionary publishers, don't move especially fast when it comes time to include a new word in their book.
Usually, they wait 10 to 20 years to make sure a word or turn of phrase has entered everyday use.
Look up the word "ecstasy," for example, and there is no mention of the infamous drug favored by the dance club subculture, but simply "the state of being overpowered by emotion..."
But the MW linguists moved with lightening-like speed recently when they decided to include the word "Google" a mere five years after its first known public reference as a verb in that standard of grammatical excellence, the New York Post.
Google, of course, is the Internet search engine whose speed in obtaining data is apparently only exceeded by its rapid use in everyday conversation.
Want to find something? You google it. I've uttered it myself.
So if you're a Google executive, you're delighted that your brand has become part of the language, joining Xerox, Band-Aid and Coke has staples of our language, right? Wrong.
According to published reports, Google's 2005 report to investors noted that "there is a risk that the word Google could become so commonly used that it becomes synonymous with the word 'search.' If this happens, we would lose protection for our trademark, which could result in other people using the word 'Google' to refer to their own products."
It's happened before. Asprin, bikini, escalator and crock pot, once trademarked, have fallen into generic use.
I could fill a book with letters I received over a long career in journalism from angry attorneys, taking my paper to task for abusing their trademarks.
A letter from the Max Factor cosmetics people once complained when we didn't capatalize "pancake makeup," which they said was their brand. General Electric once scolded when we lower cased "Laundromat," which they claimed as their own. Who knew?
"Google" appears to be the only term with trademark baggage to make the new dictionary but there are many others making a debut.
Mouse potato, a person who spends a great deal of time using a computer (and, presumebly, googling stuff) is now official. As is "avian influenze" (or bird flu to you), gastric bypass, supersize, drama queen, big box and sandwich generation ( a generation of people who are caring for their aging parents while supporting their own children). All pretty much self-explanatory.
Less obvious: Labelmate ( a singer or musician who records for the same company as another) and qigong (an ancient Chinese healing art involving meditation, controlled breathing, and movement exercises).
Then there is unibrown, "a single continuous brow resulting from the growing together of eyebrow" (do we really need a word for this?) and polyamory, "the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time" (which is nothing new in Hollywood and other foreign lands).
Interestingly enough, it's been 200 years since Noah Webster penned "A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language" which contained 37,000 entries including thousands of words that were in daily use in America but not listed in any other dictionary.
So what was new in 1806?
Electrician, "one versed in electricity," made its first appearance. So did psychology, vaccinate ("to inoculate with the virus of the cow pox'), caucus ("name of secret meetings for electioneering purposes"), census, chowder, Americanize, ortheopy ("the art of just pronunication"), publicity, sectarian, surf and spry.
Most seemed to have staying power.
So here's to you Google. May you last 200 years and may your name always be capitalized.

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