When did Google become a verb?

Did you know Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the first TV show to use the term ‘googled’?

As a result of its increasing prominence as a search engine, the use of the word Google as a verb has significantly grown. Added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2006, the term ‘to google’ commonly refers to searching for information on the internet, regardless of the search engine you use.

We often FaceTime or Skype, but we generally don’t YouTube, Twitter or Facebook. In terms of search engines, we Google but we don’t Bing. In a world heavily reliant on the world wide web, why is it that certain brands have become verbs in our everyday conversations, while others haven’t?

In most cases – like Google’s – consumers latch on to a dominant brand and ‘verbify’ it. Often, this happens even when the company itself doesn’t want it to. It isn’t clear as to why it happens in some cases and not in others, like with Bing, for example. But one thing’s for sure, the bosses over at Google haven’t taken it too kindly. In their eyes, they’ve been ‘genericided’ – they’ve lost their status as a brand and have instead become a generic term used in everyday vocabulary. Google only wants people to use its brand as a verb if it is purely their search engine and services being used – basically, if you are using an alternative search engine, then you shouldn’t be using Google as a verb at all.

Yet, ironically, despite their increasing concerns regarding legal usage of their brand name, it was Google’s co-founder Larry Page who first referred to the search engine as a verb when, in 1998, he wrote: “Have fun and keep googling” on a mailing list

In 2002, Google was used as a verb on popular TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. On October 15, 2002, in the fourth episode of the show’s final season, the character Willow turns to the eponymous slayer and asks, “Have you googled her yet?” The character Xander answers: “She’s 17!”  Willow clarifies: “It’s a search engine.”

Then, just a few months later it was selected as 2002’s most useful new word. These cases, and the inclusion of the term in the dictionary, led Google to send a request to the public in 2006 to stop using it altogether.

Despite the brand’s growing concern around people using their name as a verb, we can’t help but get the feeling their efforts have come far too late; at the end of the day, ’Bing it’ or ‘Yahoo it’ just don’t have the same effect. ‘To google’ is already out there, and there is no taking it back.

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