Google vs. Sweden: The linguistic war over the word 'ogooglebar'

The lovely, bouncy word ogooglebar means "something unable to be found on a search engine." And according to Arika Okrent, Google doesn't like it.

The Swedish Language Council is the semi-official authority on matters pertaining to Swedish language use. In addition to issuing recommendations on spelling and grammar, it puts out an annual list of new Swedish words. The list tends toward the playful, covering the same type of coinages that various organizations nominate for "word of the year" in the English speaking world (YOLO, hashtag, fiscal cliff). The Swedes' 2012 list included 40 new words, including "henifiera" — a word for the practice of replacing the gendered "he" and "she" pronouns in Swedish (han and hon) with the neutral "hen."

But more interestingly, for the first time ever, a word has been removed from the list. Today, Language Council director Ann Cederberg announced that they will be removing the word "ogooglebar" (ungoogleable) — thanks to pressure from Google, which objected to the council's definition of the word as "something unable to be found on a search engine." Rather than give in to the company's demands to change the definition to refer to a Google search rather than any old web search, the council has decided to drop the word entirely.

Cederberg makes clear, however, that this doesn't mean the word is gone from the language. "Who has authority over language? We do, the language users. We decide together which words should exist and how they should be defined, used and spelled. Language is the result of an ongoing democratic process. We all participate in deciding which words to let into the language by choosing the words we use. If we want 'ogooglebar' in the language we will use the word, and it is our use that will determine the meaning — not the pressure of a multinational company."

She also points out that anyone who now googles "ogooglebar" will not only find the original Language Council definition, but also all of the surrounding coverage about the decision to take the word off the list. All of it is now part of the history of the word and its usage, on record online for anyone curious about the meaning of this lovely, bouncy word, no matter which search engine they might be using.

- As seen in The Week
Brought to you by
NetLingo: Improve Your Internet IQ
Subscribe to the NetLingo Blog via Email or RSS