Is ogooglebar ungoogleable?

Manufacturers often spend a lot of money to turn their trade marks into household words, and then find that we consumers have made generic words of them. Do you hoover with any vacuum cleaner? Do people still kodak their kids? Do you collect gramophone records? Is your vespa a Lambretta? Can you google with Yahoo? Google says no, they want you to Google with Google.

Ungoogleable? Ogooglebar in Swedish.

The Swedish Language Council, under pressure from the owners of the Google web search engine, has submitted to self-censorship and removed this entry from its current list of new Swedish words. That doesn’t make the word disappear from Swedish brains, as if it were 1984 Newspeak, but it does deny linguists access to research on curent Swedish usage, and the public to at least spelling assistance (ogoglebar, ogoogelbar?).

An older body, the Swedish Academy, maintains the Swedish Dictionary by scouring Swedish texts from 1521 to the present day, excerpting and cataloguing words, contexts and meanings.  Vol 1 (A-Anl) was published in 1898, Vol 35 (Tok-Tyna) in 2009. They won’t be including ogooglebar yet, the letter O isn’t due for a supplement volume for some time.

Svenska akademiens ordbok
The Swedish Academy Dictionary
Photo: Swedish Academy

Recent usage is presented each year by The Swedish Language Council, in a list of new Swedish words appearing in the previous 12 months. That’s where the offending word was found – ogooglebar, an adjective derived from the infinitive googla (to google), with a negative prefix o- (un-), and a suffix -bar (-able), i.e. ungoogleable. Possible inflections are -t (neuter) or -a (definites or plural). The word is used with any search engine, just as gramofon refers to any record player.

Google’s ultimate ambition was to edit the definition in the list. The Language Council couldn’t accept this, pointing out that the proposed definition didn’t reflect the research findings, and in any case the list is descriptive and not prescriptive. So they chose to hide the word.

Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, predicted that interest aroused in this action increases the word’s chances of inclusion in the next edition of another of their publications: the Academy Dictionary of Contemporary Swedish (Svenska akademiens ordlista, SAOL), which is published more frequently than the Swedish Academy Dictionary.

Postscript 28 Mar 2013

The National Encyclopaedia of Sweden moved quickly today and defiantly added an entry for ogooglebar to its online edition:


Google hits on 28 Mar 2013:

  • googlebar 878,000
  • ogooglebar 845,000
  • googlebart 12,400
  • ogooglebart 12,400
  • googleable 160,000
  • ungoogleable 350,000
  • googleability 55,300
©Sidney Wood and SWPhonetics, 1994-2013
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