Lexical Investigations: Google

A motley combination of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Germanic dialects, the English language (more or less as we know it) coalesced between the 9th and 13th centuries. Since then, it has continued to import and borrow words and expressions from around the world, and the meanings have mutated. (Awesome and awful once meant nearly the same thing.) Some specimens in the English vocabulary have followed unusually circuitous routes to their place in the contemporary lexicon, and this series, Lexical Investigations, unpacks those words hiding in our midst.Google

Founded in 1998, the wWeb site Google.com has become such an institution that in its short existence it has changed not only the way we process the endless data found on the information superhighway, but also the way we think and talk about the Internet.

The term google itself is a creative spelling of googol, a number equal to 10 to the 100th power, or more colloquially, an unfathomable number. Googol was coined in the 1930s and is attributed to the nine-year-old nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner.

Soon after Google was created, the trademarked company name became a popular verb. People were “googling” all sorts of information, including their own names. When users google themselves, unless their names are absurdly rare, they may find their “googlegangers” (a portmanteau word combining “google” and “doppelgänger”), or their namesakes, listed in the Google search results.

A whole new industry has sprung up around Google, including the new field of search-engine optimization, or SEO, which works to boost the ranking of a name or term in Google and other search-engine results. In 2005, the newly-minted term Google bomb became popular, to describe the intentional skewing of Google search results by creating links to misleading Web pages. Whether we like it or not, we now live in a Google-centric world.

Related Quotations

“Google has come to represent all our hopes, dreams, and fears about the disruptive promise and dangers of the Internet.”
—Rob Hof, “Is Google Too Powerful?,” Bloomberg Businessweek (April 9, 2007)

“Google’s uncorporate slogan—’Don’t be evil’—appeals to Americans who embrace underdogs.”
—Ken Auletta, Googled: The End of the World As We Know It (2009)

“Show us a man or woman who’s never Googled an ex, and we’ll show you someone without an Internet connection.”
—Em & Lo, “You, Again: Reconnecting with the ex is a dicey proposition,” New York (September 24, 2006)

“I know nothing about this man, except for what I Googled.”
—Irene Zutell, Pieces of Happily Ever After (2009)