I am looking for interesting classroom material. Google is both the name of a company and also a verb.

Is there a name for this type of verb? Are there any other examples of this type of verb?

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    xerox, hoover – Peter Shor Sep 22 '14 at 12:33
  • @PeterShor Thanks! Is there a name for this type of verb?? – Gary's Student Sep 22 '14 at 12:36
  • Should we have a name for something for which only a handful of examples exist? I don't know of one, but that doesn't mean nobody has named them. – Peter Shor Sep 22 '14 at 12:46
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    @PeterShor: you have quite big hands, I guess, judging by tchrist's list (which is no doubt far from complete) :) – oerkelens Sep 22 '14 at 12:55
  • Verbing weirds language. – Ste Sep 22 '14 at 14:03

Turning a proprietary trademarked name into a generic word of common, everyday use in a way that extends to matters other than those sanctioned by the trademark holder is called a genericized trademark.1

Although this is much more common to happen with nouns than with verbs, one need hardly look far to find verbal instances, too. Besides to google, other such verbs include:

  • to astroturf
  • to cuisinart
  • to ditto
  • to mace
  • to photoshop
  • to pingpong
  • to rollerblade
  • to scotch tape
  • to superglue
  • to tarmac
  • to taser
  • to velcro
  • to videotape
  • to windex
  • to xerox
  • to yoyo
  • to zip — as in to zip up a zipper

In Britain, to hoover has replaced to vacuum as a verb, but this is not a use common to the entire Anglosphere. For example, it does not mean such in the United States, where vacuum is still used for the verb: things in America invariably get vacuumed up, never *hoovered up.

When “generiverbing” these commercial trademarks, it is customary to write them in lowercase, although exceptions can be found, especially at first. So you may see people vacillate between Googling things and googling them, but don’t expect that initial capital letter to long survive.

For inflections and derived terms, the normal rules for creating such things are still followed, just as though they were any other verb. So you get words like cuisinartistic, maced, dittoing, photoshopping, superglued, tarmacked, tasered, unvelcro, zeroxed, and so on and so forth.

As with virtually all new coinings, these are weak verbs, not strong ones, and so no irregularities are normally encountered when forming present singulars or past tenses. On occasion words that look enough like an existing word with “irregular” (really, differently regular) forms may crop up in playful use of the sort that once saw more than one Vax rendered as Vaxen.

However, as new strong verbs are quite rare (despite dove and snuck), you’re much apt to encounter these as irregular nouns (if any) than you are as irregular verbs. So irregular noun forms like kleenices, linolea, formicae, astroturves, velcri, or windices would appear more often than irregular verb forms like some hypothetical winnebago owner saying “This past weekend I winnebewent to the nearby RV park” or “Gosh, that sounds like fun: I haven’t winnebegone off for the entire summer in ages!”

Always be aware that the legal holders of the registered trademarks will and legally must do everything in their power to dissuade the use of their marks in a generic way, lest they should by negligence or tacit consent lose their legal right to control precisely how these terms are used in print.

That’s why Sony hates you writing about owning several different walkmen instead of owning “Sony Walkman® portable music players”.

But words are words, and once they escape the tightly-stoppered corporate thermos into the fresh air of common use, they prove exceedingly difficult to fit snuggly back into their original thermoi.

This causes no end of aspirin-proof headaches for well-paid corporate attorneys, and more than a little footnoting, disclaimers, and even threatening paperwork.

But I would not waste any kleenex over these words’ fate once emancipated from their previous lives as corporate indentured servants. They’ll do just fine on their own; after all, that’s how they came to this fate in the first place.


  1. All trademarks, service marks, trade names, and product names mentioned, mutilated, or mocked in this posting remain the sole intellectual property of their respective registered owners until such time as a duly empowered court of law of the appropriate jurisdiction shall find otherwise.
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  • How is "ditto" a genericized trademark? I just looked it up and apparently it comes from the Tuscan language and its earliest recorded use in English is from 1625 - am I missing something? – GMA Sep 22 '14 at 13:41
  • @GeorgeMillo en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ditto_machine – tchrist Sep 22 '14 at 14:16
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    Ah okay, I've never heard of Ditto machines, or "to ditto" used in the sense of "to copy a document", but then I'm not American. – GMA Sep 22 '14 at 14:49
  • To Swiffer. Funny you mention the capital G in "to Google." I would never use it. I wouldn't use google as a verb in a context formal enough that I'd think it necessary. If I did I'd enclose it in quotes. I'd say they've already lost that one. – Preston Sep 22 '14 at 14:51
  • things in America invariably get vacuumed up, never *hoovered up -- this is too strong. People definitely use it upon occasion in NA, though I suspect some of them are unaware that the word was genericized from a brand name and not the other way around. – Matthew Read Sep 22 '14 at 17:15

Such process may be called anthimeria, which, according to Wikipedia, is defined as:

any novel change in a word's use, most commonly the use of a noun as if it were a verb.

One may also say such nouns were verbified.

It is also worth noting that Google, as well as other brand names like Xerox (a handy list on Wikipedia) are used as generic terms. So when we take the verb to xerox, we see that it is a generic term xerox (which relates to any photocopier) which was transformed to be a verb to basically mean "to make a photocopy".

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  • What a great word! This is like discovering gerund's long-lost brother! – Gary's Student Sep 22 '14 at 13:05

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