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The Swedish word Google doesn't want you to know about

Google pushed the semi-official Swedish Language Council to not accept a new popular term "ogooglebar," meaning un-googleable.

While contemporary American English is a devil-may-care patchwork of street slang, regionalisms, and adorably misspelled IM-speak, other nations take their accepted terms quite seriously.

For example, Sweden's semi-official Swedish Language Council, the Språkrådet, is tasked with acting as the gatekeeper for the Swedish language. Its responsibilities include overseeing the language's official spelling, grammar, and adaptation of new phrases. And it's this last task of shepherding new words into the culture, which may have placed the Språkrådet in a collision course with a little Internet start-up known as Google.

The Verge reports that Google wanted the council to alter the meaning of a new popular Swedish term ogooglebar, which translates to "un-googleable." The term refers to something that you can't find on the Web with the use of a search engine. The search giant asked that the phrase only be defined to refer to something that can't be found using Google's own search, rather than on the Internet in general.

The Language Council was not willing to make the alteration, but decided to not include the phrase in its 2012 list of new words. According to the Council head Ann Cederberg, engaging with Google's legal team was taking "too much time and resources," prompting the organization to simply dump ogooglebar.

While it may seem curious that Google would place so many resources into blocking a term in a regional language spoken by less than 9 million people, there may be a very real business-oriented reason why the company wants to control language. Recently, an Arizona man sued Google to try to strip it of the trademark for its own name, commenting that the term "google" has become a generic term for conducting a Web search, no matter which search engine is involved.

This is a strange problem of the company's own success. While Google is likely not in any real danger of losing its trademark in the immediate future, its fears are not unwarranted. Several once-trademarked terms have become generic English terms (escalator, thermos, zipper). That transition has very real legal consequences and would allow anyone to use the term as they see fit. Google certainly wants to maintain legal control of its own name, regardless of how the masses--Swedish or otherwise--have decided to appropriate it.


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