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Google can go shove their lexicographical ‘advice’ up their ass

‘Do you “Google?”‘ has to be one of the most patronizing blog posts ever to have originated from the Googleplex. (In fact I’ve just noticed that the title itself sets the tone of the post – a blatant mocking of the slogan of it’s nearest competitor.)

The issue at hand is the supposed over-use of the term “Google” as an interchangeable for the word “search”. Google is concerned it could potentially lose most of the rights of trademark due if common usage of the word is deemed to have occurred in everyday English language.

This is what’s known as a ‘Genericized Trademark‘. Of course, Google have pulled this shit before – previously on the media and industry – but this is the first time they’ve focused their attention directly towards Joe Public.

Google logo behind a red banned symbol

Google begins their post by highlighting the ‘fate’ of such ‘victims’ (their words) as Thermos, Cellophane, Escalator and Trampoline. At this point my heart already begins to bleed for them. Why, what almighty travesty must have occurred when my forefathers started to refer to the receptacles they kept their tea warm in as ‘Thermos flasks’ and the kitchen wrap their sandwiches came in as ‘cellophane’.

Whilst I respect the concept of trademarks, I ultimately believe that no one owns or controls the English language – which of course is an ever-evolving and organic concept. What defines whether something is part of the English language is simply whether it’s used enough in common dialogue. In fact, according to the Oxford Dictionary a word must only be published five times in the space of five years for it to be considered to have obtained ‘currency’.

It’s thus with some guile that Google has taken the trouble to write this very blog post – to do it’s utmost to prevent the term from becoming so common it becomes a generic trademark by default. From that perspective the post reads more like the final move of a desperate party who can see that the end is nigh. This is it’s last-ditched attempt with a somewhat defensive public plea.

I also don’t like the fact that this post, which has the intended ‘casual front’ of something a bored employee must have written during a slow afternoon one day, is clearly a very calculated and considered move by Google’s PR and legal teams.

In fact the informal tone trips itself on occasions as it clashes condescendingly with the very formal ‘key phrases’ obviously written by the legal team to keep the post ‘on message’. For example:

“Google is a trademark identifying Google Inc. and our search technology and services. While we’re pleased that so many people think of us when they think of searching the web, let’s face it, we do have a brand to protect, so we’d like to make clear that you should please only use “Google” when you’re actually referring to Google Inc. and our services.”

(emphasis mine)

If the direct approach doesn’t work, Google goes on to offer some ‘hopefully helpful examples’ of when it’s ok and not ok to use the term ‘Google’. I’ll leave you to be patronized as you read them for yourself in the post, but suffice to say it’s all a bit cheeky considering the point made above — that correct use of language is defined by the masses.

It also gets my back up that each example concludes with a verdict of “Our [Google] lawyers say:”. Why do I want to be told how to construct my sentences by Google’s lawyers? Under the binds of an employment contract or similar can a company dictate how it’s brand is or isn’t used in everyday discussion – but last time I checked Google declined my invitation of employeeship and thus life-long dedication to the lexiconic correct usage of their oh -so-mighty brand.

Brand management – bad for business

But in an era of API’s, data sharing, and general Web2.0 love, I really don’t get why Google is being so, well, Web1.0 about this? (well ok maybe Google is only Web1.5 to begin with!)

In many ways, having “Google” as a generic term for “searching” does nothing but promote their brand and reaffirms their presence as the top search provider. People choose Google because of the quality and reputation of it’s product – esp in an environment where there is no financial or economic considerations to use one product over another (unlike, for example, the vacuum flask market where genuine Thermos brand items tend to be more expensive than their generic rivals).

Consumers don’t choose Google because of it’s brand or the ‘lifestyle marketing’ built around it and thus I feel Google has very little to loose. Think ‘coke’ and the potential benefits Pepsi might obtain by using the generic term ‘coke’ for an example on that one.

In the UK the term ‘Hoover’ became the common term for a vacuum cleaner due to the company’s success back in the middle of the 20th Century. These days the Hoover is a small-time player in the market but it’s presence is kept alive by the everyday use of the term. In fact the prevalence of the term ‘Hoover’ in a market where it is no longer the leading manufacture creates a heritage which bestows virtues of quality and dependability (perhaps unwarrantably) upon the company.

Go shove it

But in the end, regardless of whether it’s positive, harmful or somewhat in between for Google, I for one don’t like to be told how to use the English language.

The decision of which words I use is my decision. The decision to refer to trademarked terms as generic terms in conversation through to casual blogging is my decision. Together as society, the choice of which terms are used regularly and thus become officially public domain is our decision.

We own our language. So Google, you can go shove your lexicographical ‘advice’ up your ass.

Published in Thoughts and Rants


  1. John Middleton John Middleton

    Good post 🙂

  2. Great deconstruction. I hadn’t noticed the irony of the title until you pointed it out.

  3. Liz Liz

    Hey, found your blog through the helpful list Google(TM!) provided. Linked to you in my own rant, because you said it better than I could. Like your blog, especailly the thoughts and rants posts!

  4. I agree with your main point, but a trademark becoming generic never benefits the holder of the mark. Anyone can use the term “hoover” to describe their vacuum. Any commercial value left in that brand could be siphoned off by competitors.

  5. Tankko Tankko

    Man, you just don’t get it do you. Imagine you spent your life building up a brand, then all your competitors could suddenly start using your good name (and superior service) to drive people to their product. Would you be happy when you saw your business slipping away because of it?

    Protecting your trademark is not “pulling shit”, it’s a legal requirement.

    Think for a moment!

  6. Mark G Mark G

    lexicographical ‘advice’..
    as if it’s all about that.
    If you are threatened to lose one of your most priced assets, Wouldn’t you want to do something about it?

    Google is just doing what is required to them by Law in order to be able to say that they defended their trademark from being used in a generic sense.

    They know how bad things would get for them if they lose the trademark. And i guess you should too, even if you did try to convince your reader how “good” it would be for Google if they lose their trademark to Google.

    Please, i know you don’t want to be dictated what words to use, or any other thing that you want to do.

    But you don’t have to be so angry as well if one company is just trying to protect what is rightfully theirs within the context of the law.

    You know they just have to do it, so please, spare me the drama.

    And yes, i know you know about Genericized trademark (you mentioned it, i RTFA). But that’s exactly my point. You need not pretend to not be ignorant about the issue. You’re misleading your readers.

    Oh, the IN thing to do right now.. bash google. bash google. be cool.

  7. Ben Ben

    Like your blog, especailly the thoughts and rants posts!

    Thanks Liz – I seem to rant quite a bit

  8. Someone should go back and try to find all of the instances where Google used “google” as a verb, or bragged about it being so popular that it has started being used as a verb. I’m sure there are multiple instances out there before their lawyers started this ridiculous crusade.

  9. anon anon

    Yes google can shove it. And you can go fuck yourself.

  10. Ben Ben

    Imagine you spent your life building up a brand, then all your competitors could suddenly start using your good name (and superior service) to drive people to their product. Would you be happy when you saw your business slipping away because of it?

    Well, what about feeds and API’s? Most companies, including Google, offer feed and APIs around their services. They are making available their ‘superior service’ and to some degree ‘their good name’ to anyone who wants to use it. Theoretically their competitors – either current or future – could use those API resources to draw business to their own product.

    But that’s the ‘happy-sharing-caring-open’ environment we’re all participating in (Web2.0 etc). So if Google are happy to embrace that concept with it’s data, then it seems a little odd to be so stuck up about it’s brand.

  11. Jim Jim

    I reckon Its would be a good name for a product as the usage is slipping a lot lately. I see you’ve used “It’s” to mean “It is” as well as “Its”. I wonder if anyone will try the same with Hi’s.

    Of course the words and punctuation you use are your (yore, you’re) decision, but if you want people to understand what you mean then use the right ones. I wanted to find info on a company yesterday so I googled it, and got no hits. I searched on Yahoo and came up trumps. So I’ll not tell anyone that I found the info by googling as they’ll likely use Google rather than Yahoo if I do. Their knot really asking much moor that that, our they?

  12. Ben Ben

    Anon says:

    Yes google can shove it. And you can go f**k yourself.

    Dude, you’re not quite as anonymous as you think. And if you want to chat shit like that without even putting a name to the remark, then I don’t feel to bad about giving our your IP address:

    Hmmm a quick google (it was google, this time!) and I notice you once tried to add to the Wikipedia Entry for Xeni Jardin and have been trolling the Phoenix Arizona entry (which I notice is where you are from).

    Sure, you could be on a dynamic IP but seeing as the only instances of this IP address that I can find is more trolling (like your comment here) it looks like this is you…

    You are running a firewall, aren’t you?

  13. anon anon

    Talking shit? You mean like it’s okay for Ben to tell Google to shove it up their ass because he disagrees with them, but it’s not okay for me to tell Ben that he can go fuck himself because I disagree with Ben?

    And somehow because I choose not to post my name, a very long and honored tradition in America, it’s okay for Ben the big internet consultant to publish an IP address and then try to link it to other behaviors?

    Ben, you’re a much more dense source of evil than Google. And a dipshit too. It’s ironic how you use Google’s service to do evil all in the course of a post in which to decry Google for being evil. Are you really such a stupid fucktard?

    Go fuck yourself.

    (sorry if this is a duplicate post, teh intarweb, your website, and/or ff 2.0, failed for the moment.)

    Oh, and stop lying to your readers, anyone that describes adding a single entry to a wiki talk page as “trolling” is either a liar, or has no respect for his readers (or himself.)

  14. ceedee ceedee

    Protecting their trademark, my arse!

    Can’t wait to see “Better googles on Yahoo!” or “Faster googling with MSN”.

    Must rush, need to Dyson the flat…

  15. jr jr

    If the “Google” trademark is precious and needs to be protected, they need to stop people from using the term “googling” in any form, including using it in the “approved” method, otherwise they run the risk of making micky mouse arguments.

  16. I am a googler who googled on some website and found you. What the google can that company do if I decided not to give a googling damn about their googling trademark?

    We have had the same sort of idiotic problems come out of the likes of Apple – someting I expect from a company that dwells on silliness.

    But this company? Oh, well.

    Someday we will know they grew up when we google them on Yahoo!

    Otherwise we can google their asses back to Web 0.0

  17. Pierce Pierce

    I think Google is trying to walk the thin line between having people recognize their great web search engine (by using it as a verb) and protecting their trade mark.

    I doubt if they really care how you use the word in your everyday speech, but if they ever wanted to sue someone for mis-using the term, they have to show they made a good enough effort to restrict the use of their brand name.

    So don’t take it personally. Let them do their legal notification, and ignore it if you wish. No point in getting hot and bothered by it (unless you do plan to deprive them of any control of their name).

  18. Joe Blow Joe Blow

    Wheee…another irrational, irate, whiny, nobody blogger!

  19. anon2 anon2

    I have to agree with anon. While I do generally agree with the blog post, working your hardest to identify who made an anonymous post, then even going so far as to TRACE the IP, and, most importantly, publishing the results, are not only gross overreactions to the mere use of the *gasp* “f-word,” but completely inappropriate in general. The logic that the information was available does not justify its retrieval and particularly it publication. I suppose you won’t mind if I publish the contents of your hard drive on my own blog, if I can “make” them available? This type post is what draws people to your blog. That type of answer to a response is what sends people running quickly away.

  20. anon2 anon2

    And responses are MODERATED? If you were that offended by the comment, just reject it! Just because someone annoys you doesn’t mean you have to try to smear them, much less expose them.

  21. John Parziale John Parziale

    OK, here’s my 2 cents . . .

    I’m a trademark lawyer and I agree with Google’s position, and I love their approach to enforcement notices. And, no – I don’t work for the company or do any work for them under contract. This is just my opinion.

    A trademark holder MUST AT ALL TIMES police their trademark and enforce their exclusive rights to use the mark IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES. Failure to enforce rights to a mark leads to dilution of the mark and can (and sometimes does) lead to the registered mark becoming generic.

    Think this doesn’t happen? Here’s some examples of formerly registered marks that, due to failure of their owners to police and enforce their rights, were invalidated, declared generic and allowed to be used by anyone: Allen wrench, aspirin, bikini, brassiere, cellophane, crock pot, dry ice, escalator, granola, heroin (formerly a Bayer mark for a pain reliever), hula hoop, jungle gym, kerosene, lanolin, laundromat, linoleum, milk of magnesia (formerly a Phillip’s mark), mimeograph, petrol, photostat, pilates, plasterboard, pogo stick, spandex (formerly a Dupont mark), tabloid, tarmac, touchtone (formerly an AT&T mark), trampoline, videotape, Webster’s dictionary (surprise! Anyone making a dictionary can use this mark), yo-yo, zeppelin, zip code (formerly a USPS registered mark), and zipper. [Source: See,, Wikipedia, October, 2006]

    Here’s one easy example of a mark that, thanks to the Internet, is causing its owner a bundle in enforcement costs to keep it from going generic: SPAM ( a Hormel Foods mark).

    A mark owner is faced with a dilemma – it has to enforce its exclusive rights to the mark but in doing so, may risk damaging its reputation (and the strength of its mark) by overzealous enforcement. A good example is Apple Computer’s history of going after fan sites for using marks registered to Apple.

    Google’s post takes a decidedly humorous approach to enforcement. Technically, it is warning all comers that it will guard its rights to the mark “GOOGLE.” And, it gives users explicit examples of what is proper and improper use of its mark by third parties, something most mark owners often do NOT do for anyone. On the other hand, Google has softened the impact of its enforcement by taking a definite a light-hearted tongue-in-cheek approach.

    So, to those of you complaining about Google’s post – lighten up! – Google did. And, its their mark, not yours. Deal with it.

  22. What about babies that say “google ga ga”? Are they going to complain about that too? Send those babies cease and desist letters!

    As silly as when LEGO complained about how you can’t say Legos. I’m gonna go play with googlers’ legos after I google for the googleplex.

  23. Flotsam Flotsam

    Ben, it’s not as though Google is even a good search engine anymore so I don’t think they have much to protect. It is a very profitable advertising company though so maybe that’s what they are worried about. Still, the fan boys will always want to display their lack of taste in public so don’t be too surprised at some of the comments you’ll get.

  24. Anon and Anon2 – I think the point here is that if you want to contribute to the debate, do so in a grown-up matter.

    If you don’t have anything to say, say nothing.

  25. Anon and Anon2 – I think the point here is that if you want to contribute to the debate, do so in a grown-up matter.

    If you don’t have anything to say, say nothing.

  26. mc mc

    Please notice that Google do not expect anyone to follow their advice, they are not actually telling you to use Google as they say. You can use it however you like, they don’t give a damn.

    What they do care about, however, is giving the appearance that they are attempting to stop unapproved uses of Google. This they *have* to do, to allow them to stop other people creating fake Google sites, using their name etc. That’s all they care about.

    So if you take this for what it is, something aimed at the Trademark office, and not you, perhaps you will feel less annoyed and can carry on using googling however you see fit.

  27. Ben: Revealing IP addresses of your blog commenters is a serious breach of privacy. “Go fuck yourself” is hardly so offensive that it justifies tracking the guy down.

    It’s also funny for you to drag an anonymous critic into the light, because that’s exactly what Mena Trott did to you. As she said in that Les Blogs speech, “I’ve seen people make comments on these channels that they would never say to somebody’s face.”

  28. Rogers guilty conscience Rogers guilty conscience

    Rogers, you weren’t this quick to think this when you had the chance to post a lead to Curry’s personal details, via IP, when you took a dig on Winer’s behalf 😛

  29. Trademark is intended to protect us “consumers”, and not this well established brand.

  30. John Parziale John Parziale


    How do you think a “brand” is established? A “brand” is nothing more than a symbolic association in the mind of the consumer between a symbol and/or word and the source and quality of the product or service to be purchased. Trademark arises from old English crests, where a symbolic emblem painted on a medieval knight’s shield or on an army’s flag served notice to all as to the identity and allegiance of that army.

    A trademark represents the goodwill of a particular manufacturer or service provider. The purpose of a mark is twofold — to identify the source of the product or service the consumer is considering and to distinguish the trademark owner’s goods and services from those of others. By allowing consumers to identify the source of a product or service, consumers can make qualitative value judgments prior to purchase.

    A mark is an aid to consumers, but its purpose is not to “protect” them. As such, the mark and rights to the mark (including exclusive use thereof) belong to the mark holder, not the public.

  31. fluxburner fluxburner

    Does anyone really want to start using “google” as an interchangeable for “search”? I think everyone already does use the word properly…even in the first response to anon1. Just couldnt avoid it, you used it as Google intended.

    Those that don’t use it properly (well the proper use is in debate, but according to recent recognized dictionaries) misuse it intentionally; well intentional misuse is pre-meditated and that won’t get the whole world to genericize the word. That isn’t how the phenomenom happens; society just starts to use it casually. (boy i hope my grammar is correct, the grammar critics are pretty harsh…is that you Mrs. Palmer [third grade teacher])…

    And speaking of anon1. “Yes google can shove it. And you can go fuck yourself. ” everyone shocked? what was your thought though? why do you disagree with the author? Mrs. Palmer, you can take over here anytime…on the composition of an argumentive essay please (and maybe some manners too) Those of you defending this guys right to disagree with the author, did you understand his argument in those two sentences? Are you defending a guy that obviously just picked the fight? Obviously not a fight over content as anon does not address the topic.

  32. Ben Ben


    This has nothing to do with Mena incident. I’m not calling anon out for what he’s said – he can go call me whatever he likes, I’m calling him because he hasn’t put a name to his comment. As I wrote on your blog post I was known as ‘dotBen’ for many years before les blogs and I even an registered in the UK as self employed under the title ‘dotBen Interactive Systems’. was registered in 1999 and in 2001 – so your accusation that I wrote under some anonymous pseudonym during ‘the indcident’ is total bollocks.

    In the media, at least in the UK, there’s actually some interesting common broadcast and print working practice (if not law) that states that comments made from totally anonymous sources can’t be read out, printed or attributed. I believe it’s to stop a publication libeling another party by saying “an anonymous party says ‘Bill Smith is a lying bastard’…” etc As you may know, I have some background working in the media and also follow UK law on this blog (it’s hosted in the UK)… so technically it could be argued that I also had the right to delete his post if I wanted to (I obviously didn’t).

    So look, ‘anon’ didn’t even put down who they were – and that’s what pissed me off. If you think displaying his IP address is a serious breach of privacy than I suggest you surf via a proxy or something because you know as well as everyone else that you’re giving that information out to every website to visit. I would also urge you to go lobby Jimmy Wales first, who displays the IP address of every non-registered contributor to Wikipedia (which is the link I used in the reply post to ‘anon’) – that is surely a much grosser breach of privacy on a far wider scale?

  33. If a site routinely reveals IP addresses, as Wikipedia and some message boards do, then users can decide whether to participate under those terms. But your policy seems to be that IP addresses are private unless the user pisses you off. How is that in any way defensible?

    I run message boards and never reveal IP addresses. It’s information the public doesn’t need, and revealing it facilitates harassment.

    As for Trott’s speech, I just found it funny that you’d drag somebody in front of the entire class for being incivil. After your impassioned defense of candor, I didn’t know you had it in you.

  34. Ben Ben

    “I just found it funny that you’d drag somebody in front of the entire class for being incivil.”

    Yeah, well, like I said… I didn’t call him out for being uncivil I called him out for being anonymous.

  35. anon3 anon3

    Anon and Anon2 are as good a names as any. Maybe he just doesn’t like filling out forms. Its not like you can leave the fields empty. You have to put _something_ in.

  36. The problem comes largely from lawyers being over-protective, which I can understand – it is, after all, their job to legally protect their clients from any potential threat.

    However, someone should point out to the Google poster that, contrary to popular opinion, it’s very hard and takes a very long time for a trademark to become generic. Thermos, for example, took 50-odd years of common usage to fall out of trademark, and then only in the US (it’s still a registered trademark in over 100 countries). The vast majority of “genericized trademarks” listed on Wikipedia are nothing of the sort (it’s one of the most awful, misleading entries on Wikipedia and ought frankly to be torn up and started from scratch).

  37. John Parziale John Parziale


    I agree that it is no longer easy to genericize a mark, especially in this age of multichannel advertising (satellite, broadcast, cable, internet, etc.), but it is still possible. In the US, when Ronald Reagan was elected to his first term, there was a very strong movement to gerericize certain marks — I remember in particular Kleenex being on the “hit list” — but those efforts failed only after companies took extraordinary efforts to stregthen the association between their marks and a particular product/company/service provider, and commencing mark enforcement actions. In Kleenex’s case, ads were changed to say, “Kleenex brand facial tissue” replacing the older, simpler reference to “Kleenex.”

    I referenced the Wikipedia list because it was publicly available; most people do not have access to legal texts on trademarks.

    Many of the marks listed at Wikipedia are listed in the US trademark texts as examples of marks that have gone generic. I am without knowledge as to whether those marks listed at Wikipedia are still valid marks in other countries.

    My apologies for not properly stating that I was referring to US trademark law and marks in the US.

  38. Harold S Kramer Harold S Kramer

    Question: Why does GOOGLE keep changing URL’s for some of their videos? It seems to me that those that are anti-war, or anti-Bush, or anti-GOP are getting relocated constantly. Have you noticed this too?
    Wonder why?

  39. And responses are MODERATED? If you were that offended by the comment, just reject it! Just because someone annoys you doesn’t mean you have to try to smear them, much less expose them.

  40. Bravo. You commentary is excellent, the best that I have read in many months.

  41. The word “Google” has many meanings.

    Verb: I like to google people (get something for nothing from people.).

    Noun: You, Sir, are a google (an evil hypocrite who claims to be doing good for humankind).

    Predicate Adjective: I’m googled (screwed).

    Noun: The judge sentences me to five years in Googleville (prison for fraudsters).

    Verb: Please do not google my website (to censor and ignore, especially in China).

    Adjective: That food was google-licious (tasted worse than it looked).

    Predicate Adjective: Hitler was a Google (power-mad, two-faced tyrant).

    And so forth.

  42. Frank Dougherty Frank Dougherty

    google like the unions in the the word of commerce have outlived their usefulness, as a user of the internet since its inception, unless youhave the exact vernacular or absolutely know the web site that you want to go to GOOGLE is a useless piece of sh–.

  43. Frank Dougherty Frank Dougherty

    GOOGLE GO FUCK YOURSELF (and it is possible)

  44. Good Site! Keep Doing That!7

  45. Colin Colin

    It’s odd that someone writing an article about writing should demonstrate his concern for language by persistently giving the possessive “its” an apostrophe. I’ll send Lynn Truss round to beat you up!

  46. Andrew Corr Andrew Corr

    I don’t think Google are all that bad. I mean, they’re just that company who advertise everywhere on the web aren’t they?

    I mean, what harm can they possibly do. It’s not like they’re about changing the world or anything. They just want to be free to advertise stuff wherever you look.

    I don’t see why they don’t just drop the whole “Google” name anyway, I mean, they mostly use the name “Ad-words” which suits them much better.

    And to be honest, I have used the expression “Googley eyes” to signify searching for something since I was a child in the eighties. I’ve always used the expression “I was googling for something, then I found it” since I was able to speak. I was surprised when the new Google search engine appeared and discovered they actually misspelled it from “Googol”. Those guys who came up with it were geniuses.

    I can only imagine what ran through their minds when they perfected the Googol algorithm. “Now we’ve found what we’ve been googling for, we shall change the face of the advertising industry.” Absolute geniuses. Thanks for making this a better Google Earth. I really like being Ad-Worded everywhere I look.

    I’d like to Ad-Word you, Googol, Get outta my fucking face.

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