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Google Becomes a Verb

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Trademark lawyers everywhere are shaking their heads in dismay, as the Oxford English Dictionary has now added Google's company name to the dictionary as a verb. Although this would seem to be a good thing for Google, thanks to the free advertising, such unofficial uses dilute company trademarks, making it more difficult to pursue trademark infringement lawsuits. Other companies whose names have fallen prey to "verbification" include FedEx, TiVo, and Xerox.

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But let's turn our attention from trademark law to usage questions. (Hey, we worry about this kind of stuff in TidBITS!) Here's how the OED's definition reads:

intr. To use the Google search engine to find information on the Internet. trans. To search for information about (a person or thing) using the Google search engine.

That's clear enough, but from what we can tell, the OED seems to be sticking with the capitalization of Google, even when used as a verb, as in the sentence, "I'll Google that information when we get back to the office." On the other hand, in April 2006 the editors of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary were considering adding Google as a verb, but lowercasing it, and this week they made the addition official.

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There has been some discussion of whether or not capitalization is necessary. The Chicago Manual of Style suggests that lowercasing such verbs is common, but that the final decision is up to authors and editors, and that whatever is chosen should be followed consistently throughout a work. Personally, I prefer my verbs lowercased, even if (or perhaps because) that pains the trademark lawyers. So if you want to read more about this story, just google for "Google verb".

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