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Google is now a verb!

July 07, 2006 20:55 IST

It was unofficial for quite a while, causing linguistics professors much pain when students would talk about 'googling for information' instead of 'searching' for it. Now, they can all rest easy. The search engine Google has just been granted a spot in the 11th edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.

The definition given is: "To use the Google search engine to obtain information. on the World Wide Web."

What this means is, if you now tell a friend, 'I have to google Shah Rukh before I watch his film,' it will be a correct thing to say.

According to linguists, the word 'google' entered the lexicon fast. Whereas most words take a decade or two -- provided they are used often enough -- google took just five years. Some believe this is normal for words that are used online, as the Internet has the power to broadcast words a lot faster, and to a huge audience.

This isn't its first appearance in a dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary added it a while ago, but preferred 'Google' with a capital G.

If you assumed this would be welcome news for the company, think again. Branding experts have often maintained that common usage can be more of a curse, eroding the power of a brand. Take, for instance, the campaign ran by Xerox Corp. a while ago, asking people to use the word 'photocopy' instead of 'Xerox'. The problem is, when a word falls into common use, it fails to enjoy legal protection.

Google knows this is a problem. After all, Cellophane, Kleenex, Rollerblade and Aspirin are all trademarks that have turned into generic names. In its 2005 report to investors, the company mentioned a possible risk that the word 'Google' could soon become synonymous with the word 'search,' leading to a loss of protection. A couple of years ago, the search engine had also asked the lexicography site Word Spy to knock 'google' from its online lexicon.

For now, reports say the company approves of the word's use, provided it refers to the search service, not search engines in general.

Keeping it company are 99 new words such as 'spyware' and 'mouse potato'. Don't know what they mean? Get those dictionaries out.

rediff news Bureau