or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Search and Destroy

Just yesterday I used "Google" as a verb--at least I capitalized it!--and today I read on Boingboing.net that Google's battalion of lawyers is getting all pissy about just such a usage, now that the verb has shown up in a couple of dictionaries, in one instance in lower case. (Here's another article on the subject.)

Guess what, guys? That can of worms has been opened: the worms are all over the place and you're not going to shoehorn them back in.

The Straight Dope calls such words "brand eponyms": it's a useful coinage. An eponym is a common noun which is derived from a proper noun, specifically a person, such as "bloomers" (after Amelia Bloomer) and "cardigan" (after Lord Cardigan), and so a brand eponym is a common noun derived from a brand name, such as "cellophane" or "zipper", both of which were once copyrighted.

If you ever read a journalism magazine, you'll see dozens of ads featuring such products as Kitty Litter Brand Cat Box Filler, reminding writers that if they use the words "kitty litter" without capitalizing it, and without specifically referring to that brand, they will be punished; the company wants you to say something like "cat box filler" or "cat gravel". (It makes for clumsy writing, the sort that makes the word "legalese" a punch line: you can't say "The defendants played scrabble", though you might get away with "played Scrabble", but the lawyers would be happiest if you were to say "played Scrabble® Brand Word Game". It's what happened with the Band-Aid television jingle: "I am stuck on Band-Aid 'cause Band-Aid's stuck on me" had the word "brand" jammed into it after the first iteration of the brand name, because the lawyers are terrified that the word will become a generic word for "sticking-plaster", as if it hasn't already in the common parlance.)

The lawyers aren't just harassing the innocent, of course--not quite. Trademark protection is not trivial. One problem is what's called "trademark dilution", which is what happens when an insufficiently zealously guarded trademark is used by others in ways that lessen the value of the trademark--if, for example, I were to start marketing Coca-Cola brand toilet paper. (The lawyers would reasonably say that I was piggybacking on an established brand name to sell my product, that I was divorcing the meaning of "Coca-Cola" from that specific product, and I was cheapening the brand name in the eyes of the public.)

Still and all, you'd think the Google people would be happy that they created a word which universally means "do an Internet search for". They can moan about it all they want, but they're not going to stop people from using "Google" (or even "google") as a verb.


Blogger Bright Beak said...

Part of the reason, by my way of convoluted thinking, that things take on as nouns what were initially branded nouns/proper nouns is that we as a culture are in a hurry to say so much of nothing that the superfluous gets weeded out in favour of the understood, though abbreviated, forms of the nouns/adjectives/etc.

Heck, even *I* [insert undeniable levels of overt sarcasm here] have been known to take a proper noun, and after a few iterations of saying the superfluous, have turned it to a regular useage noun, then *gasp* a verb when the need (in my mind alone, I'm sure) arose.

Case in point: the late Pope John Paul II was a frequent flyer who had a particular gesture he would employ upon disembarking from modes of non-terrestrial conveyance - he would kiss the ground in gratitude to God for safe arrival.
So, after mine & Neil's rather perilous and unexpected trek through the surface streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan on a Friday afternoon in July (1995, the hottest one on record until this year; and down 5th Ave. no less), when we arrived on the New Jersey side of the Holland Tunnel dearest hubby of mine commented that he was as close to "poping" as he ever had been in his life, and as close as he imagined possible.
No he did not mean pooping, not even close actually - I think he was too relieved to have been safely arrived in New Jersey for that. And he did not mean popping - whatever that might have been at the time. He literally meant that he was as close to getting from the vehicle and kissing the ground in blatant and abject appreciation to God for safe deliverance from the perils of the New York City streets!

Thus was born my useage of the word 'pope' as a verb. In most tellings of the story of our aptly-named "trip from hell" I have referred to our joyous exit from the Holland Tunnel as "Neil was so glad to be out of New York that he nearly poped!"

And I'm sure I've told this story to you in that mode too. :)

bb - edits took twice as long as initial composition - the keys on my keyboard keep moving! ;)
bb2 - the delete for things that passed initial review was an annoyance too!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006 11:26:00 AM  

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