"Tweet" Word of the Year, "Google" Word of the Decade

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The results are in: the American Dialect Society has selected tweet as the Word of the Year for 2009, and google (the verb) as Word of the Decade for 2000-09. I've got a full report on the proceedings over on my Word Routes column for the Visual Thesaurus. An excerpt:

Reactions to the vote are already coming in. On the American Dialect Society mailing list, John Baker pointed out that both tweet and google are proprietary names. Google is obviously a trademark of the powers-that-be at the Googleplex (who are no doubt unhappy about the dilution of the brand name by having it treated as a generic verb). But tweet is also a service mark owned by Twitter, filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on April 16, 2009 and pending registration.

Read the rest here.


  1. Dan T. said,

    January 9, 2010 @ 11:47 am

    What would really threaten the trademarks would be if people started using them in a manner completely separated from the particular proprietary systems they originally referred to, like if they say they "googled" something or somebody when they actually looked them up somewhere else not involving the Google™ brand search engine, or when they say they "tweeted" something whenever they post a brief update anywhere (e.g., Facebook or a chat room) that doesn't involve use of Twitter.

  2. Alan said,

    January 9, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

    The first of those, at least, has happened (v. the "Google (verb)" entry at Wikipedia).

    Poor Xerox…

  3. Dan T. said,

    January 9, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

    Has "spam" ever made anybody's word list for a year, decade, or century? There's a trademark gone bad; Hormel has fought some legal battles unsuccessfully to stop companies from trademarking names containing "spam" for spam-fighting products and services, though they retain trademark rights in the area of food products.

  4. Sili said,

    January 9, 2010 @ 6:32 pm

    Well, for now Twitter is the only one in the business (which I seem to recall caused some terrible withdrawal symptoms when the site went down a while ago), so as of yet there's not competitor to mooch off the brandname. I find it hard to imagine that that can last, though, and then they'll certainly have a problem (as will the new site in getting any sort of market share).

    Personally I only use "to google" for using Google™, but that is also the only general search engine I use. I have no extended sense yet, so I don't for instance "google my shelves for a book". Yet. I do miss a good verb for using Wikipedia, though. I've tried "wikipeeking" for years, but I'm not completely happy with it.

  5. Tonio said,

    January 9, 2010 @ 6:47 pm

    I just say "I wikipediaed it."

  6. unekdoud said,

    January 10, 2010 @ 3:45 am

    I use "wiki-ed", with this usage extendable to any wiki whatsoever and not just wikipedia. (Let me wiki that for you?)

    The computer nerd verb for physical searching would be grep.

    As for noun verbing, you may want to LL it.

  7. Graeme said,

    January 10, 2010 @ 9:09 am

    What could Google care? The spread of the word reflects total brand penetration (insert vacuous marketing superlative here). Such linguistic heights never hurt Band-Aid/band-aid et al.

    Google as a verb has spread to refer to all manner of lazy/instant 'research' 'methods' online.

    Am I the only one around using 'tweet' as a general, mild pejorative for email, text and even oral speech acts that do no more than announce that one is doing something pleasurable but mundane?

  8. Dan T. said,

    January 10, 2010 @ 10:37 am

    Band-Aid's legal department does seem to care; they've insisted that their commercials these days say "Band-Aid Brand" instead of just "Band-Aid" even though it disrupts the meter of their jingle. Calling something a "band-aid solution" probably displeases their lawyers too, but there's nothing they can do about it when the use is noncommercial.

    Another brand name in the tech field that gets used generically is "Photoshop", the trademarked name of a particular popular graphic editor program, but which many people (myself included) use as a verb for manipulating pictures… "I photoshopped together a picture of a girl sticking her tongue out with a picture of a rare stamp, to make it look like she was eating it, to illustrate the concept of Food Stamps." Since I don't actually own (or pirate) a copy of Photoshop, all of my own graphic editing is with different programs with different brand names, but that doesn't stop me from saying or thinking that I'm "photoshopping" an image.

    While people occasionally say they "wikipediaed" something, this hasn't really caught on. People do, on the one hand, sometimes refer to Wikipedia in shorthand as "Wiki", which is not really accurate because a wiki is a generic word for any wiki-style site and not a specific name for Wikipedia; but on the other hand people (especially writers of news headlines) often refer to sites unrelated to Wikipedia as "The Wikipedia of [some subject]", to imply that it's a large online compendium of (trivial?) information, often publicly editable.

  9. ignoramus said,

    January 10, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

    Do not forget to [H]hoover thy carpet or thy blog.

  10. John Cowan said,

    January 10, 2010 @ 7:21 pm

    ignoramus: hoover is distinctly BrE, although Hoover is an American brand by origin.

  11. Nathan Myers said,

    January 11, 2010 @ 4:14 am

    I know "hoover" from my youth in Hawaii, distinctly non-BrE. Usually it occurred in connection with rushed table manners.

    As I understand U.S. trademark law, verbs cannot be trademarked, and use of trademarks as verbs cannot be enjoined by the courts. Of course this does not stop trademark holders from writing strident letters. Furthermore, even a successful defense may be very expensive in time and, if one is unlucky, legal fees. The threat of being named as a plaintiff creates a de facto rule against verbing trademarks held by aggressive ligitators even with the law firmly against them, if indeed it (still?) is.

    I'm not a lawyer, and I would welcome a clear, authoritative explanation of the current state of the matter, although my experience is that the two rarely arrive in the same carriage.

  12. Mike said,

    January 11, 2010 @ 1:06 pm

    Xerox has long battled the so-called "genericized trademark" phenomenon:


    Band-Aid and Kleenex are two other good examples.

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