Googling and Bing…ing?

A quick follow-up on my post about  [T/t]weeting, and [X/x]eroxing:

A contemporary example of the verbing of trademarks is Google — so far, at least, when people talk about “googling” something, they seem to mean “searching using Google.” Of course, as with Xerox, there’s always the chance that the verb will become generic so that it would make sense to google someone on Yahoo or Bing (the lawyers in the Googleplex are very aware of this potential problem).

And talking of Bing, Microsoft’s newish search engine, I was reminded this evening of a curious marketing technique that MS is using. Their TV ad ends with this slogan:

Bing  and decide.

(I also found it on their promotional website, shown on the left, but with Decide capitalized.) Since decide is obviously an imperative verb here, by parallelism, so is Bing. (Have you heard anyone saying “Oh, I’ll just Bing it” yet?) Is this an attempt to compete with Google on grammatical grounds? Or is Microsoft playing with linguistic fire? Remember how hard Xerox is trying to kill the verb to xerox and the noun a xerox?

Precedent suggests that attempts to manipulate the spread of language forms in a “top-down” fashion (i.e. governments/corporations telling us what we should or should not say) are unlikely to work, certainly not in English, and certainly not on the Internet. The Associated Press can try to mandate how journalists use language, and the style guides such as the Chicago Manual are influential in publishing and academia, but these are not the places where linguistic innovation occurs.

For the record, here is Google’s attempt to turn back the tide:

Usage: ‘Google’ as verb referring to searching for information on, um, Google.
Example: “I googled him on the well-known website Google.com and he seems pretty interesting.”
Our lawyers say: Well, we’re happy at least that it’s clear you mean searching on Google.com. As our friends at Merriam-Webster note, to “Google” means “to use the Google search engine to find information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web.”

Usage: ‘Google’ as verb referring to searching for information via any conduit other than Google.
Example: “I googled him on Yahoo and he seems pretty interesting.”
Our lawyers say: Bad. Very, very bad. You can only “Google” on the Google search engine. If you absolutely must use one of our competitors, please feel free to “search” on Yahoo or any other search engine.

It’s a nice try, but it won’t work. Unless “binging” takes off — and as that’s just the participle/gerundive form form of the rather unpleasant verb to binge, I rather doubt it.

Author: Nigel Caplan

Nigel Caplan, Ph.D., is an associate professor of ESL and materials developer in Delaware, in the United States.

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