In late March, Google was throwing its weight about by demanding that the Swedish Language Council correct its definition of ogooglebar (‘ungoogleable’). Instead of “unable to be found on the web with the use of a search engine” it should be “unable to be found on the web with the use of the Google search engine”. The wiser Council, loath to spend money on legal battles, didn’t try to prevail, but gave in without a shot fired. Or to be more exact, it turned its guns on its own word list and killed the entry.
These sorts of actions show how Google’s power has gone to its head. They also demonstrate either how little the company knows of linguistics (which is conceivable in spite of Google Translate) or how good they are at getting themselves in the spotlights – after all, the intervention made the news not just in Sweden, but all over Europe.
However, the Swedes have struck back. Not only have they kept using the word ogooglebar – that every first year in linguistics could have predicted – but they have also ridiculed Google by coining a new version of the controversial word, ogogoogoglolebobaror. According to the Swedish source that broke the news, the Academy itself was behind the move, aiming to make the word fly under Google’s radar. Needless to say, that didn’t work. What perhaps does need to be said is that the whole scheme was an April Fools’ prank, not by the Academy, but by Datormagazin, a trade magazine for the IT industry.
Interestingly, the seemingly far-fetched ogogoogoglolebobaror is a word that any Swede who has ever been a child understands immediately, because it is the so called ‘robber language’ translation of ogooglebar. Introduced by Astrid Lindgren, the famous author of children’s books (1907-2002), in her books on Kalle Blomkvist (Bill Bergson in the English translations), it uses simple rules to change any word, no matter in what language. These rules are: double every consonant, and insert an o between the two; leave vowels as is. (Spelling trumps pronunciation, so know becomes koknonowow.)
Ogogoogoglolebobaror. It’s my favourite Swedish word already, better than smörgåsbord or ombudsman. Thank you, Ms Lindgren. And even, willy-nilly, thank you, Google. For your churlishness, which brings out finer qualities in others.