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Global

A Thousand Verbs Blooming

Don’t use Google as a verb, especially to refer to any info-searching on any other search engine, says the Google police. I won’t even go into how futile this is — do you really imagine that if generations of schoolmarms haven’t been able to keep writers from splitting infinitives or finishing sentences with prepositions that lawyers will be able to halt this semantic expansion? Language has a force that Google can’t stop. No, not even Google.

What they should do instead is, actually, the point I want to make. Google should encourage people to use other brand names (Yahoo!, etc.) into their own verbs. Don’t want to be evil? Then don’t constrain the creative productivity of language–encourage it! This isn’t a zero-sum game, people.

I’ve used “friendstered” and “facebooked” to refer to looking someone up on those sites. Not that I’m a pioneer or anything, but the extension comes naturally, and people pick up the neologism quickly. Google could argue that specifying the search tool you used is, actually, meaningful information. An analogy: We say “I forked the meat/spooned the sauce/knifed the mugger.” If you don’t make this argument, you leave unanswered the question, Well, what verb am I supposed to use when I use another search engine?

Because I’m reading Yochai Benkler, it also strikes me that my solution is the open-source solution: put the creative power of language in other people’s hands to protect your brand. What Google wants to do is impose proprietary restrictions on a process it can’t have control over — it will fail, and in ten years the jokey cliched ledes of newspaper articles (if there are newspapers) will recall this moment as one of the great corporate language follies, along with selling the Chevy “Nova” in Latin America.

(If you think about it, this may be Ask.com’s branding strategy.)