Saturday, June 23, 2007

Taking a name in vain

In its review of i google myself, a current play, the New York Times tells the truth about trademarks as well as people: "When no one’s looking, in the privacy of our own home, vanity or curiosity (or a mix of the two) compels us to google ourselves." Creeping genericide? Not a chance. In today's heavily branded environment, consumers can perfectly well distinguish between nontrademark and trademark uses; Google is a brand, but google is a verb.

I think there's a much better justification for google as a verb than kleenex as a noun, though neither are evidence that the marks have lost trademark significance. The verb "google" fills a linguistic hole, substituting for more awkward locutions like "enter our own names as search terms." Traditionally, filling a linguistic hole has been an excellent way for a term to become generic, but -- as long as there is a generic term for the thing, which there invariably is for our modern successes such as TiVo, iPod, Google, etc. -- I doubt that's true any longer.

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