Google joins Xerox as a verb

Yahoo may need a Band-Aid or a Kleenex. Its rival has been officially ensconced in Merriam-Webster's--and the OED.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
5 min read
Though you may have been "googling" people for years, the verb you were using was technically slang, until recently.

In fact, many regularly used tech words are just now getting the official stamp of approval from English-language dictionaries.

On Thursday, Merriam-Webster announced its latest update, and the new science and technology words added to the venerable dictionary include agritourism, biodiesel, mouse potato, ringtone and spyware.

MW gets techie

The venerable Merriam-Webster dictionary got an update Thursday. The new words and senses, currently available online, will be included in the 2006 version of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, due out this fall. Here are some technology and science highlights. The year notes the first known usage of the term.

avian influenza (n) 1980: a highly variable mild to fulminant influenza of birds that is caused by strains of the influenza A virus which may mutate and be transmitted to other vertebrates--called also "bird flu"

biodiesel (n) 1986: a fuel that is similar to diesel fuel and is derived from usu. vegetable sources (as soybean oil)

google (vt) 2001: to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web

manga (n) 1951: a Japanese comic book or graphic novel

mouse potato (n) 1993 slang: a person who spends a great deal of time using a computer

ringtone (n) 1983: the sound made by a cell phone to signal an incoming call

spyware (n) 1994: software that is installed in a computer without the user's knowledge and transmits information about the user's computer activities over the Internet

text messaging (n) 1982: the sending of short text messages electronically esp. from one cell phone to another

wave pool (n) 1977: a large swimming pool equipped with a machine for making waves

Merriam-Webster Inc.

And google is defined as a transitive verb meaning "to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web." While the entry retains capitalization in explaining the word's etymology--"Google, trademark for a search engine"--the verb google is lowercase.

"A noun turns into a verb very often. Google is a unique case. Because they have achieved so much prominence in the world of search, people have been using the word google as a generic verb now. Our main aim is to respond to the use of the language that we see. We consider ourselves very respectful of trademark. That (google as a lowercase verb) is really a lexicographical judgment based on the evidence that was analyzed," Thomas Pitoniak, the associate editor and composition manager for Merriam-Webster, told CNET News.com.

Becoming synonymous with an invention may hold a certain amount of historic glory for a company, but ubiquitous use of the company's name to describe something can make it harder to enforce a trademark. Bayer lost Aspirin as a U.S. trademark in 1921 after it was determined that the abbreviation for acetylsalicylic acid had become a generic term. The trademarks Band-Aid, Kleenex, Rollerblade and Xerox have had similar issues.

Merriam-Webster's definition of "googling," however, specifically refers to a Google search, not just any search done on the Internet. So far, the company is OK with the new definition.

"Defining google as a verb and as using the Google search engine is appropriate," a representative for Google told CNET News.com in an e-mail.

And so does the OED

On June 15, the Oxford English Dictionary released a list of new entries added to the OED Online. Some tech highlights:

adware, n.Biosteel, n.
chip and PIN, n.codec, n.
cybrarian, n.cybrary, n.
digicam, n.geocaching, n.
Google, v.hacktivism, n.
mash-up, n.mesohyl, n.
nanobot, n.pixelate, v.
rewriteable, adj.screenable, n.
self-storage, n.texting, n.
text message, v.uninstall, v.

Oxford English Dictionary

The Merriam-Webster editorial team analyzes print, radio and television, as well as the Net, as sources for new words and usage.

"It's a many-side beast, this electronic media; it also involves the acceleration and spreading of words and meanings. The Internet has been an amazingly useful resource for us and in our work. However, when we look to the Internet, including journalistic sources, there is a whole set of challenges involved. Part of the problem is that you don't know if it's an intentional variation, or someone does not know how to use the word correctly," said Pitoniak.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which released its update June 15, also added Google as a verb, but it retained the capitalization. The OED also included a wide range of both quirky and commonplace tech terms that Merriam-Webster has not yet deemed dictionary worthy.

Noah Webster's...

..."Compendious Dictionary of the English Language" (1806) featured the following cutting-edge entries:

aeriform (adj): having the form of air, as gas
caloric (adj): pertaining to the matter of heat
deliquesce (v): to dissolve or soften in air
electrician (n): one versed in electricity
ignescent (adj): yielding fire or sparks
psychology (n): the doctrines of spirit or mind
sebaceous (adj): fat, pertaining to fat
vaccine (n): the cow pox, kine-pox
vaporize (v): to convert into vapor by heat

Merriam-Webster Inc.

The new words from Merriam-Webster are already available online and will be included in the 2006 print version of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, due out this fall.

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Noah Webster's "A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language," the Merriam-Webster Web site is featuring a glossary highlighting Webster's original entries. These are words that were commonly used in America but were not yet found in any English language dictionary. Some of Webster's science and mathematics terms (the earliest known use of the word technology was not until 1859) included: aeriform, caloric, decahedron, electrician, galvanism, ignescent, vaccine and vaporize.