The Grammarphobia Blog

Google eyed

Q: Is “google” a legitimate verb yet? I probably should google it, but I’ve decided to check with you first.

A: “Google” (the verb) has made it into the OED (with a capital “G”).

The definitions: (1) “To use the Google search engine to find information on the Internet.” (2) “To search for information about (a person or thing) using the Google search engine.”

The first citation given for No. 1 is from 1999, in a Usenet newsgroup called alt.fan.british-accent: “Has anyone Googled?”

The first citation for No. 2 is from 2000 in another newsgroup, alt.sysadmin.recovery: “I’ve googled some keywords, and it came up with some other .edu text.”

However, Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, may have been the first person to use the company’s name verbally. Here’s how he signed off the July 9, 1998, Google Friends Newsletter: “Have fun and keep googling!”

Interestingly, Google itself has discouraged the use of its name as a verb. Why? It’s concerned about the possible loss of its trademark if “google” becomes a generic term.

In 2006, for example, a Google trademark lawyer sent a letter to the Washington Post describing “appropriate” and “inappropriate” ways to use its name.

It’s “appropriate,” according to the lawyer, to write: “I ran a Google search to check out that guy from the party.” It’s “inappropriate” to write: “I googled that hottie.” Sorry, Google, but I fear it’s too late. The genie is out of the bottle.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) already lists the verb “google” with a lowercase “g,” but notes that it’s often capitalized. M-W says it means “to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web.” In other words, to google a hottie.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) doesn’t have an entry yet between “goofy” and “googol” (the number 10 raised to the power 100), but I’d be shocked if “google” isn’t there in the fifth edition.

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