Something old: Google Doodle

This odd non-fiction piece I wrote, Google Doodle, was first published in 2003 on US site Newtopia. It’s amazing how antique it feels now. (There was a time before google was a word?)


Google Doodle

Google isn’t: a solution.

Google is: the new tv for netheads who have switched off from terrestrial.

Soon we will all hate Google as much as we loved it from the mid 90s to round about when the millennium parties stopped and the dotcom dotbombed. We will hate Google because it will stop being something we choose to use and become something we have to use. For me, and for most of the people whose opinion I respect, that moment happened imperceptibly a long time ago, and when it happened we took a step closer to having a hive mind. Where it’s going is anyone’s guess, which I guess means it’s everyone’s guess.

I google, you google, we all google, a googol of googlers. Google is a religion, a god and a verb that hasn’t quite made it into print yet. Or has it?

I decide to check with Merriam-Webster online, the web’s most popular dictionary, to see if they’ve heard of the verb to google, but they refer me to the Merriam-Webster’s Spelling Help page, where they advise me:

“The word you’ve entered isn’t in the dictionary. Click on a spelling suggestion below or try again using the Dictionary search box to the right.

Suggestions for google:
1. goggle
2. guggle
3. googol
4. gaggle
5. Gogol
6. goggled
7. gulag
8. goggle-eye
9. guggled
10. goggler”

Guggled and goggler, I think, sound pretty much to the point, so I ask them for more about those. M-W haven’t much to say about guggled, they hint that it’s more or less the same as gurgled. But goggle!

One entry found for goggle.
Main Entry: 1gog·gle
Pronunciation: ‘gä-g&l
Function: intransitive verb
Inflected Form(s): gog·gled; gog·gling
Etymology: Middle English gogelen to squint
Date: 1616
: to stare with wide or protuberant eyes
gog·gler /’gä-g&l-&r/ noun

Yes, that’s why the verb to google works so well, because to goggle is rolling around under it and behind it somewhere. And, even further into the past, gogelen. We are all turning into Middle English gogelers. I am anyway.

I go back to the search box to see what else M-W knows about the internet. I ask it about online, javascript, website, internet.

Suggestions for online:
1. on-line
2. in-line
3. unlink
4. olein
5. inulin
6. unlinks
7. unlit
8. Union
9. only
10. union


Suggestions for javascript:
1. geophysicist
2. geopolitical
3. geophysicists
4. Jefferson’s


Suggestions for website:
1. webbiest
2. weepiest
3. weightiest
4. webster
5. webbier
6. Webster
7. habits
8. waist
9. wurst
10. west

This is incredible, considering this dictionary is itself a website. Then I notice that one of the features of M-W’s online dictionary is that if you type in a word they’ve heard of you can get links to the 10 most popular “Web Sites” for that word. And I remember about the weird captalisation some people feel is needed when mentioning the web in case people think we are talking about spiderwebs or something… Reluctantly, thinking slightly less of M-W, I type in Web Site. This is what I get.

Suggestions for Web Site:
1. webbiest
2. weepiest
3. weightiest
4. webster
5. webbier
6. Webster
7. habits
8. waist
9. wurst
10. west

I’ve almost given up when it comes to the word internet. But this time I score:

One entry found for Internet.
Main Entry: In·ter·net
Pronunciation: ‘in-t&r-“net
Function: noun
Date: 1986
: an electronic communications network that connects computer networks and organizational computer facilities around the world

Having scored a hit means I can get tips on how to pronounce this in American. So I press the little red button for the audiofile, and listen to the American voice say in a possibly East Coast, or maybe just completely unrealistic kind of way, “internet” with very audible t’s, instead of inner-net like I’d been expecting.

The word-geeks behind the Oxford dictionary are spared the embarrassment of a squint at their efforts, because their product is not free online, and I’m not paying a subscription just to find out. How about the Cambridge dictionary? Well thanks to Cambridge I now know that online is an adverb and an adjective.

adjective [before n, not gradable]
describes products, services or information that can be bought or accessed using the Internet
an online newspaper/magazine/dictionary
online banking/shopping
If you are online, people can communicate with you using e-mail.

Cambridge is getting there, though the example ‘I’m not online yet, so I can’t give you an e-mail address’ tends to convey a certain lingering sympathy with those displaying resistance. And the Cambridge dictionary is hip to websites, too. Very with-it!

website, site
noun [C]
a set of pages of information on the Internet about a particular subject, which have been published by the same person or organization, and often contain colour pictures, video and sound

I am very pleased with Cambridge when I see this, though I note the cap ‘I’ internet with a slight sense of foreboding.

I decide to check out their words of the day, even if they nicked the concept from M-W (although actually I don’t know which of them nicked the idea from the other). The Cambridge site has its own take: themed weeks. This week the theme is drunk, so far they’ve offered sozzled, tanked up, inebriated, legless, and one I’ve only heard used by a particular auntie, blotto, which they say is dated slang for extremely drunk.

I give them 9 out of 10 and add the site to my toolbar, shortening the url to CamDict as they haven’t come up with a  short version themselves. Javascript, however, confounds them:

Search Results
javascript was not found in the Cambridge International Dictionary of English
Did you spell it correctly? Here are some alternatives:
* jobshare
* jobshared
* jobshares
* jobsharing

So it is with some trepidation that I come back to the original point, finding an online dictionary that’s up with the verb to google. I’m a little reluctant to put Cambridge through this, after all they scored very well with online and website, they didn’t even pull any weird tricks with capitalisation or unnecessary hyphens, and that is nice to see, especially when the Times, along with certain influential members of the trade press who really should know better, is still shouting about Web! sites.

Anyway, I finally get around to asking CamDict about that verb. As I press the search button, I fully expect that I will be disappointed if they don’t have it, so my reaction surprises me almost more than the result. Because when I’m told
“google was not found in the Cambridge International Dictionary of English”, my reaction is of palpable relief. “Did you spell it correctly?” CamDict enquires solicitously, and offers some alternatives.

* gaggle
* gazelle
* giggle
* giggly
* gigolo
* goesslow
* goggle
* goggle-box
* goggle-boxes
* goggle-eyed
* goslow
* gushily
* guzzle

I suppose the above long and meandering process about defines what googling is about for me, as a process, an activity or whatever it is. It’s not very productive but quite fun. It’s not necessarily about finding reliable answers, more about asking questions. And if I’m honest it’s a lot about being there first or at least wanting to be there first, ahead of the waves of traffic that surge about the wired planet daily. When I used to spend my time looking for empty beaches it was usually Germans who got there first. At least these days it’s a mixed group of nationalities that I find have beaten me to the interesting spaces online. And just occasionally, I get there first. Wa-hey!

© Lane Ashfeldt, 1 Feb 2003

Postscript: In April 2003, I find the verb to google in the opening page of William Gibson’s ‘Pattern Recognition

Post-postscript: In February 2007, I find this on Merriam Webster:

One entry found for google.
Main Entry: goo·gle
Pronunciation: ‘gü-g&l
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): goo·gled; goo·gling /-g(&-) li[ng]/
Usage: often capitalized
Etymology: Google, trademark for a search engine
: to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web