TechWeb

Google Objects To 'Ungoogleable'

Mar 26, 2013 (11:03 AM EDT)

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Speakers of Swedish who want to say that a search term cannot be found using a search engine will have to think twice about how they express that thought: The Swedish word used to describe searches that return no results -- "ungoogleable," or ogooglebar in Swedish -- has been removed from a list of newly recognized Swedish words following Google's objection to the term.

Ogooglebar entered common parlance in Sweden last year, according to the Swedish Language Council, a regulatory body that attempts to define the scope of the Swedish language. As a result, the Council added "ungoogleable" to its annual list of new Swedish words in December.

But in a statement published on its website on Tuesday, the Council said Google had asked the organization to refine its definition of "ungoogleable" and to include a disclaimer.

Instead of doing that, the Council said it has deleted the word from its list of neologisms as a way to express its "displeasure with Google's attempt to control the language" (as Google Translate renders the Swedish).

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Google's objection to the word is based in U.S. trademark law, which requires trademark owners to police their trademarks to prevent the trademark from becoming diluted. Google's legal team has in the past pushed back against the use of "google" in English as a synonym for "search," more as a required bit of legal gymnastics than as an effective campaign for linguistic change.

The Council's statement suggests that Google threatened to litigate the matter and that the council removed the word from its list rather than engage in a costly court battle.

Google did not immediately respond to a request to clarify whether legal threats were made. However, the company did acknowledge that it looks after its trademarks. "While Google, like many business, takes routine steps to protect our trademark, we are pleased that users connect the Google name with great search results," a company spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

The Council, in its statement, sounds far from pleased. It more or less accuses Google of cultural imperialism. Google Translate renders the group's sentiment thus: "Google has namely forgot one thing: language development [does] not care about brand protection. No individual can decide about the language."

The Council says that ogooglebar will remain online despite its removal from the list of neologisms and suggests that the controversy will enhance its survival as a term.

That may be, but Google Translate does not recognize the term.

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