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Sunday, August 6, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Use Google, but please don't "google," search engine says

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — In July, The Washington Post and other media outlets noted that "google" had entered Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. It was a landmark for the search engine, going from nonentity to common usage in only eight years.

One would think a company that existed only in the minds of two college dudes a few years ago would be happy that The Post and other media outlets prominently marked the occasion.

One would, until one got a letter from Google's trademark lawyer.

Google, evidently, took offense to a passage in The Post article: "Google, the word, now takes its place alongside the handful of proper nouns that have moved beyond a particular product to become descriptors of an entire sector — generic trademarks."

This characterization, the letter warned, is "genericide" and should be avoided.

Such letters are cranked out every day by companies keen on protecting their trademarks. Wham-O wants writers to eschew "Frisbee" for "plastic flying disc," for instance.

Google goes the extra mile and provides a helpful list of appropriate and inappropriate uses of its name.

To show how hip and down with the kids Google is, the company gets a little wacky with its examples. Here's one:

"Appropriate: He ego-surfs on the Google search engine to see if he's listed in the results.

"Inappropriate: He googles himself."

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But this is perhaps the best: "Appropriate: I ran a Google search to check out that guy from the party.

"Inappropriate: I googled that hottie."

It's a matter of debate whether it's appropriate or inappropriate for a market-leading company worth $113 billion to use the word "hottie" in official correspondence.

What is beyond debate is the fact that Google's trademark complaint arrived via a hand-addressed letter in the actual mail.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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