Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

When a proper noun like "Skype" is used as a verb ("Skyping"), should it be capitalized? My thinking is that it should be capitalized because the root is a proper noun. Does anyone know of a rule about this question?

share|improve this question
2  
Languages take centuries to come to decisions about points like this, and skyping has only been around for a few years. And it may soon go the way of CP/M and buggywhips, so I don't think The Academy is prepared to rule on its capitalization yet. Plus, I doubt that anyone will sue you for not capitalizing or failing to use the trademark symbol properly: Skype™, Skypes™, Skyped™, Skyping™. –  John Lawler Aug 21 '12 at 15:57
1  
@John Lawler: I think you're right there! I just googled "googled the answer", and Google didn't even say "Did you mean Googled the answer". I certainly didn't get any warning messages threatening to close my Google account for failing to acknowledge and capitalise "their" verb! –  FumbleFingers Aug 21 '12 at 20:48
    
@FumbleFingers: They might well do so in a few years. And you would have a hard time convincing a US judge that you have not misused their name. –  Noah Aug 22 '12 at 5:45
1  
No. Trademark law protects Google's right to the sole use of the name in trade, but does not in any way limit how a person can use (or spell, or capitalize) the name in ordinary speech. –  MετάEd Aug 22 '12 at 12:53
add comment

4 Answers 4

The answer is tied up in genericized trademarks and neologism. Google is a good example of this. Google the company has fought very hard to prevent its name from becoming genericized. Around the turn of the millenium, "google" was on its way to becoming a common term for web search of all kinds and Google took significant action to try and prevent this.

The word "google" has been added (as lower case) to some dictionaries including Merriam-Webster, but as a result of Google's pressure the definition is some variation of "using Google's website to search the internet".

I haven't seen "skyping" used to describe video chat that is not from Skype itself. I'd use that as a rule. Once it's common for people to describe using FaceTime or something similar as "skyping" is when it's reached that genericized point.

share|improve this answer
    
I've witnessed firsthand someone saying "googling it on Yahoo". Unironically, even. –  snailboat Oct 8 '13 at 19:31
    
If Skype isn't yet generic, then the verb should be 'Skyping'. –  DJClayworth Mar 19 at 23:54
add comment

Etymology is not a determiner of whether something gets capitalized or not. Many proper nouns are derived from non-proper nouns (e.g. Apple, Smith, United Kingdom, World Wide Web), and vice versa (e.g. atlas, echo, narcissist, siren, sodomy). It is usage and usage alone that determines whether something gets capitalized or not. In fact quite a few proper nouns become genericized against the owner's will because of usage. Examples of nouns created that way include aspirin, bandaid, coke, escalator, kleenex, thermos, zipper; examples of verbs include google, photoshop, facebook, and skype.

Of course when you coin an all-new verb — say, to AltaVista, to iPod, to McDonald's, to NATO —, capitalization is instrumental in helping readers understand what on Earth you're talking about at all. But once a verb has entered everybody's everyday lexicon you'll be hard pressed to justify capitalizing it, especially if it's taken on a generic meaning, and especially seeing how English, in general, simply does not capitalize verbs except at the beginning of a sentence. "I googled for photoshopped cats and had to lol" becomes the norm, not an exception.

See also:

Edit: I tried to have a quick look at actual usage, but both COCA (three cites for "skype*.[v*]", all SPOKEN) and BNC (no hits at all) were not exactly helpful.

share|improve this answer
    
RegDwight AAA: Thanks, I was aware of many of your examples. I do not wish to contribute to the general fund of ignorance and so try to hold out, buck the tide, and do things properly as long as I can. –  Donna Aug 21 '12 at 16:04
    
@Donna but that's not ignorance. That's how language works. Any language, I might add, not just English. Both your question and your comment are chock-full of words that your ancestors would consider misspelled. Your capitalizing or not capitalizing one particular word is a drop in the bucket. –  RegDwigнt Aug 21 '12 at 16:09
    
The Times (of London): "Skyped" 15 occurrences, "skyped" 1 occurrence; "Skyping" 22, "skyping" 1. –  Alex B. Aug 21 '12 at 18:13
    
I work for a professional journal and, though I doubt it would happen that Skype would sue us, I'd still like to keep them happy. By holding out I mean something like "alright" which is quickly supplanting "all right." I will use "all right" forever. ;-) –  Donna Aug 21 '12 at 18:24
    
@Donna: If your goal is to keep Skype's legal department happy, then you should avoid verbing the name of their product, and prefer locutions such as "using Skype", "calling [someone] with Skype", "talking [to someone] on Skype", and so on; "Skyping" is less bad than "skyping", but both are quite bad from a trademark-erosion standpoint. If your goal is to keep their marketing department happy, then "Skyping" and "skyping" are both wonderful, with "Skyping" being a bit better. So overall, I'd go with "Skyping", but don't expect all Skype employees to be grateful. :-P –  ruakh Aug 21 '12 at 19:43
add comment

Once you verb it, it becomes just another word like googling, photoshopped, videotaping, zippered, etc. However, some authors do ensure that they capitalise trademarks to avoid any infringement and/or mention that it's a trademark. Adobe, for e.g., can be quite vehement in their objection to the use of 'photoshop' as a verb.

Wiktionary has an entry for Skype. It also informs me that pesky is an anagram of Skype, which is quite ... appropriate.

share|improve this answer
add comment

To answer the question actually asked:

Proper nouns and words derived from them are capitalized. That's why adjectives like French are capitalized. Thus we find words like Christainize always written with capitals.

Nouns can become improper by virtue of genericiztion, and Google is probably one of those. But it's that which determines whether there should be a capital, not whether it is a verb or a noun.

If the verb is not deserving of a capital then it's corresponding noun should not either. If it is OK to talk about googling something, then the activity itself can be legitimately referred to as a 'google'.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.