Books written by Ray Sullivan

Saturday, 30 March 2013


I've got several dictionaries at home, gathering dust.  Not one of them, unfortunately, is remotely up to date.  None of them, for example, list 'internet', mainly because since the advent of the internet, there hasn't been a need to buy a new dictionary.  But they're unbelievably useful things, these books of common and exotic words with their carefully crafted definitions.  It's just that it's much easier when writing to look up an online resource than to put the laptop down, walk over to the bookshelf and flick through the dictionary.  And of course, you never do just look the one word up when you do get that book down off the bookshelf, because right next to the word you're looking for is a similar word that has an incredibly rude meaning.  Then there's the other words in the pages nearby.  Look up a spelling, check a meaning you're 95% certain is correct, and there's the afternoon gone.

Better I stick with the online version which tends not to drag me away or pervert my generally unspoiled mind is my view.

The reason the dictionaries in my house are out of date, of course, is that the English language doesn't stand still, never has, which is why Shakespeare sounds so odd, yet familiar too.  Dictionaries reflect the way we speak and the words we use.  We've all seen the newspaper columns announcing that some hip youth term that frankly I hadn't heard of until the news report came out is now being introduced into the dictionary  while my favourite technological oddity is coming out, simply because I'm the last person in the country to use the device and nobody understands what I'm talking about when I mention its name.

And it's not just English that's growing, all modern languages are, although the predominance of English in business and modern culture means that English words are being absorbed into other languages rapidly.  Technology has driven many of the new words in the dictionaries of the world, and many of the technological words I use in my blogs are recognisable across the world, even if my quirky sense of humour doesn't necessarily translate as readily.

Like most modern languages, Swedish is adopting words and creating its own.  And like most modern languages it has a body that looks after its language officially.  Where we have the Oxford English Dictionary to monitor the pulse of UK English words in common usage, Sweden has the Language Council of Sweden which promotes and demotes words in the Swedish language based on observation of usage.  Consequently they have promoted 'ogooglebar', which translates to 'ungoogleable' to mean any word, phrase, concept or idea that cannot be found in a search engine.

Google have complained that their trademark has been infringed and have insisted that the Council remove the word from its listing.  Their main complaint is not that there are words, phrases, concepts or ideas that cannot be found on Google - I'm guessing they're cool about that because if you Google 'ungoogleable' on Google then you'll find plenty of suggestions for ungoogleable ideas, although the fact you found them on Google does put that concept into doubt.  But the fact that they don't have knowledge of stuff is OK by Google.

Google's complaint is that the Swedish definition included any search engine, not just theirs.  So if I've got this right, Google want 'ungoogleable' to mean a word, phrase, concept or idea that cannot be found using Google but could on Bing or Yahoo.  In fact, the more I think about it, Google are actually suggesting that rather than we accept or even invite failure, we should try Bing or Yahoo first.  Then, when you fail with those two, give up because it is worse than 'ungoogleable', it is unbingable or, worse, unyahooable.  It seems a strange objection, but it does have a basis in logic.

There have been cases in the past where product tradenames have become so generic that the name owners have lost the legal right to exclusive use of the name.  One example that didn't go to the extreme that the company lost its rights, but did suffer long term, is Hoover.  In the 1930s Hoover were the predominant manufacturer of domestic electric appliances in the UK to the point where anyone running a vacuum cleaner over a carpet tile or two would say they were 'Hoovering', regardless of the make of vacuum cleaner.  Back then, with Hoover making virtually all the vacuum cleaners, electric cookers and washing machines in the UK and, apparently, dams in the US, the over-use of the trade name didn't do them any harm.  However, fast forward a couple of decades and we have new guns coming on the market, the Vaxs and Dysons of the vacuum cleaner world and they start to make serious inroads into Hoover's market share, and now the adjective 'to hoover' played against them.  Their tradename wasn't recognised, just the activity.

I suspect that this is what Google are trying to avoid, however I've got some bad news for them.  When the boss sticks his head around the door and shouts for someone to Google such and such, I'm sure anyone in the office currently using Bing or Yahoo don't close it down and open Google.  Google may have 90% of the search engine market, just as Hoover had of the UK vacuum cleaner market some time back, but the term 'to Google' is synonymous with using any search engine already, including the one you already have open on your desktop.  Of course Bing and Yahoo aren't going to bring Google down - they're too busy hanging onto the coat tail trying to keep up to do that - but someone will.  Probably some seventeen year old working on an app in a bedroom, an app that will blow away Google, Bing and Yahoo in one svelte move.  Almost certainly Google are keeping an eye for that app, because not only do they have spare cash for lawyers to bully Swedish wordsmiths, they have cash to pay seventeen year old kids with, too.

The biggest disappointment for Google, though, is that although they have persuaded the Swedish Council to not list ogooglebar and its meaning, it isn't going to go away.  Nor will ungoogleable in the English language, if we have any say in the matter.  It might have if they hadn't threatened legal action against a group of people whose only crime was to reflect the usage in their society, but now I would suggest everyone in Sweden will use the word even more, with the definition that Google don't like being pushed.  I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't a backlash against Google in Sweden over the audacity of the company, which is currently defined as upgooglesownarse in Swedish, by the way.  Perhaps Abba could reform for the next Eurovision Song contest with a song entitled Ungoogleable, about how they searched for the pretty girl everywhere, using every resource at their disposal. Even the search engines Yahoo and Bing (rhymes with sing, so may work). And Google (ryhmes with misguided). Google might be able to challenge the financial might of Sweden with ease, but Abba?

Make sure you use ungoogleable at every opportunity possible, and make sure that it is clear that the word means that there is no means at your disposal that would help you find whatever it is you are looking for- the car keys are ungoogleable, I've looked everywhere dear. No, I haven't Googled for them, they're ungoogleable. My marbles are lost - yes I've tried all the search engines. They're ungoogleable.

Does anyone know of a search engine that doesn't have a distorted view of its own self importance? Absolutely ungoogleable.


I can be followed on Twitter - @RayASullivan
or on Facebook - use to find me

Why not take a look at my books and read up on my Biog here

Want to see what B L O'Feld is up to?  Take a look at his website here

Worried/Interested in the secretive world of DLFs?  Take a look at this website dedicated to DLFs here, if you dare!

No comments:

Post a Comment