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Swedish linguists nix new word after row with Google

Online ad giant said 'nej!' to 'ogooglebar'

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The Swedish Language Council, a semi-official body aimed at regulating and advancing the Swedish language, has withdrawn a word from its annual list of neologisms for the first time in its history. Why? Pressure from Google.

As Swedish newspaper The Local reports, each December the Council publishes a list of words that have recently entered the Swedish language. Among the words originally included in 2012's list was "ogooglebar," which translates as "ungoogleable" – meaning something that can't be found on the web using a search engine.

When word of the word got back to the Chocolate Factory, however, the internet giant stepped in and asked the Council to change its definition of ogooglebar to one that applied only to searches made using Google, and not any other search engine.

The Council refused, and on Tuesday it announced that since it had been unable to reach agreement with Google on the matter, it had formally withdrawn ogooglebar from its list – not that it expects Swedes to stop using the word, mind you.

"If we want to have ogooglebar in the language, then we'll use the word and it's our use that gives it meaning – not a multinational company exerting pressure," Swedish Language Council head Ann Cederberg said in a statement. "Speech must be free!"

Google's own position on the matter was ogooglebar, so El Reg reached out to the company for clarification and received a brief statement:

While Google, like many businesses, takes routine steps to protect our trademarks, we are pleased that users connect the Google name with great search results.

Under US trademark law, companies that don't take action to prevent their marks from being used in a generic way risk "trademark erosion", a process that can lead to the marks becoming valueless.

Google is no stranger to the issue, having written a letter to The Washington Post in 2006 that enumerated the ways in which its name should and should not be used in English-language text.

The online ad-slinger hastened to point out, however, that the Swedes acted on their own. "We did not actually ask the Swedish Language Council to remove the definition – we asked for edits and they voluntarily offered to remove," a rep told The Reg.

But that explanation doesn't fly with the Council, which said the talks with Google had been taking up too much of its time and resources – especially given that it would never change the definition of any word to suit a company's wishes.

"It would go against our principles, and the principles of language," Cederberg said. "Google has forgotten one thing: language development doesn't care about brand protection." ®

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