You may have never thought about this before. After all, the word is so common that we now use it as a verb without anyone batting an eyelid. I’ve thought about it now and then though. Mainly because that’s what I do, but also because I remember it from my childhood.
Well, kind of. Sadly, I’m not young enough for Google to have existed in my childhood (though I was 14 when google.com was registered, so, close). But I did know the word googol.
A googol is a number, a real number, despite what the word might sound like. It’s represented by a one followed by one hundred zeroes. So it’s pretty big. This big:
The word first appeared in the book Mathematics and the Imagination by American mathematician Edward Kasner. Apparently it was actually coined by his young nephew (either 8 or 9 years old at the time) when Kasner asked him to come up with a name for an extraordinarily large number. I think that’s pretty plausible, because that’s the kind of answer I’d have given when I was that age.
When Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed Google, they were inspired by the number as they felt it symbolised their desire to organise the seemingly infinite information of the internet.
That must have seemed like quite an impressive undertaking back in 1997, but not much more than 20 years later we’re so used to having such an incredible search engine at our disposal that the word’s just another of the thousands we use every day without thinking.
I’ll always remember googol though, mainly because when I was a child 100 itself seemed impossibly large, so a number with 100 zeroes may as well have been infinity to me! I’ll never forget the image in a children’s encyclopedia of Krasner’s nephew telling him of the term he’d coined. It must have been quite an old book, as it had that 50’s children’s book painted style. Perhaps in 20 years time some adult will reminisce in an equally wistful way about some particularly memorable Google Doodle.
Or Googol Doodol.