Why Bing Is the Wrong Name

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Microsoft is striking terror into the hearts of prescriptive grammarians everywhere by suggesting that millions of people could start using the word Bing (the recently unveiled latest-and-greatest search engine from Microsoft) as a verb in everyday speech.

And if Bing turns into a verb like, say, Xerox, TiVo or, well, Google, that would be nice too. Steven A. Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, said Thursday that he liked Bing’s potential to “verb up.” Plus, he said, “it works globally, and doesn’t have negative, unusual connotations.”

One of the oft-cited reasons for Google's success, other than the fact that it offered a decent ground floor product at a time when the world was full of search engine suckery, is that it had a name which was susceptible to being immortalized as a household verb. To Google is to search the web, and to search the web is to Google.

Microsoft desperately wants this for Bing.

And I'm sure they thoroughly focus-grouped and psychology-tested and committee-reviewed the name ad infinitem/absurdum. At this level, the billions of dollars level, you don't draw names out of a hat. So the name went through the review and acceptance process and the experts pulled out their pocket protectors and proclaimed that YES, Bing is a GOOD NAME!

The only problem is, the experts were wrong.

While I won't go so far as to say that Bing is a stupid-ass name for a search engine, I will say that as a label for a mass-market search product, Bing sucks like a bag of three-day-old cheese puffs. And by the way: I like Microsoft. I've been using Microsoft technologies my entire adult life. That doesn't make the choice of "Bing" as a cultural moniker any less daft.

Allow me to explain.

First: it's monosyllabic. It's short, but it doesn't roll off the tongue, unless you define "rolling" to be what happens when you drop the Oxford English Dictionary on the floor. Say both of the following phrases out loud:

  • Google it!
  • Bing it!

There's an unnatural strain on the word "Bing". When you say I binged the Superbowl out loud, it sounds like I BINGED the Superbowl. It's not possible to speak the word "Bing" as a verb without speaking it in ALL CAPS. It's explosive and short, and this makes it awkward in casual speech. The word "Google" manages to avoid this strain because its two rapid-fire syllables give the tongue something trochaic to bounce across.

Second: it's a little dorky. When a person says "I Google stuff all the time" it has a neutral or even slightly positive connotation, of curiosity and basic computer prowess intermixed with sure, a little light geekery. But when a person says "I bing stuff all the time"...let's face it, that person is probably a dweeb. At least, I personally would feel like a dweeb if I were the constantly-Binging type. But I'm not; I Google; and I can say that with zero embarassment; and this is a huge problem for Bing.

Third: if I ever had to tell someone I binged their mother, I'd feel a little dirty. Maybe it's my oversexed geek mind, or maybe it's because bing is one vowel away from bang. Eitherwhichwaysoever, the word bing strikes me as sexually suggestive when applied to a person of the opposite sex. Neologistically speaking, Bing works equally well as the name of a family-friendly search engine or a synonym for fornicate. Bonus points...if you're 14.

Fourth: the word's greatest success in the English language to date has been the phrase "bada-bing". There's also the Bing cherries thing and Bing Crosby and bingo and bling but come on...when you hear the word BING...

...fuggeddaboutit.

Fifth: the past tense of "bing" is "binged". No big deal, except that "binged" is also the past tense of binge, which means to eat or imbibe to unhealthy excess, in the formal eating disorder sense of the word. Of course, these sound different when spoken, but on paper, they're the same. Another potential past-tense of "bing" could be bung, and let's not even go there.

Sixth: the present participle of "bing" is "binging". The dual repetition of the -ing is not conducive to the use of this word in casual conversation! It's naselly and too hard to enunciate. Normally a person could just drop the terminal G but that leads to:

The other day I was BINGIN' some stuff about World of Warcraft and I found a great page showing me how to PWN those n00bs

Please see item #2 above. In general, the omnipresent/double "ing" in "Bing" causes all sorts of issues with casual speech, because it either requires extra effort to enunciate distinctly, or it gets dropped, or it ends up sandwiched uncomfortably against the next word.

Seventh: I don't mind calling myself a Googler but I will NOT tolerate being called a Binger. Nowadays people will cheerfully call themselves Googlers and Gayglers and Googlephiles and when they do, they're not necessarily swearing allegiance to a product. They're swearing allegiance to a culture and a lifestyle and a way of looking at and interpreting the world. Both Google and Microsoft are out to make a profit—let's not kid ourselves—but Google will always be the give-it-away-for-free company and Microsoft will always be the charge-you-an-arm-and-a-leg company. 100 million dollars of advertising doesn't change that.

Finally: the name Bing has no substance. It lacks authenticity. It was fabricated by marketing gurus and choosers of names. Engineered. It lacks the good-natured-yet-world-changing charm of a name like Google, and it lacks the Google story. Whimsically creative agnostic names (names that don't really "mean" anything and are thus seen as a blank slate, ripe for branding) are all the rage these days, but the very best names (Twitter, Google, etc.) are lifted from the mind-mesh of whatever domain the site is focused on. Twitter is a verb which means "to make high pitched sounds, as of birds". Google (or rather, googol) is a well-known number and suggests vast quantities of data. But Bing...Bing means precisely nothing, and it doesn't have even a tangential relationship to search.

(Ah, except for the sound of found and other cocktail party slogans. But the whole "ringing bell of search" thing is a little corny, and anyway, everybody knows that bells DING and DONG, not BING and BONG.)

So in conclusion I can only say to Microsoft: I'm sorry, but Steven Hodsen is right.

The fact is that Microsoft could have finally developed the killer search engine that leaves Google and all the rest in the dust but it won’t matter one bit with a name like Bing.

Bing is a good name—for a can of soda, a children's cartoon, a puzzle game, or maybe even some sort of revolutionary Web 3.0 social networking site. Bing might even succeed as a search engine, on the merits. I hope it does: I think Google could use the competition. But as a household verb, not only will Bing not succeed...it won't even have a chance to fail.

On the brighter side, at least it's not WolframAlpha...

Tags: Google, Bing, Internet search, Microsoft

37 comment(s)

There are some excellent points in here. I have to agree that Bing can be a little awkward, but I also think it won't matter, provided they provide a superior search product. I will never use "bing" as a verb but I might use Bing. At some point we have to get back to basics here: actually getting people to use your stuff.

And by the way...cheese puffs are my fav..

While I do agree that Bing makes a terrible verb, it does do well in the form of "bing search". Also, it didn't hit me until I went to change the default search provider in IE8, but it does rank pretty high on an alphabetically sorted list of search engines. I wonder how much this played into the choosing of the brand name :-P

If you are interested in learning more about Bing there is a new video on Channel 9 with Erik Meijer and Harry Shum (VP of Engineering for Bing). It is a bit dry, but gives a good overview of the design and background for Bing. Check it out:

[url]http://channel9.msdn.com/posts/Charles/Expert-to-Expert-Harry-Shum-General-Purpose-Search-Decision-Engines-and-Bing/[/url]

I enjoy having my own search engine.

Lol @ Bruce Bing.

I also agree that the name is...not Google. But is it intended to be? I don't think MS is so foolish as to think, hey! We're gonna topple Google with this thing!! I think they just want a decent search offering that can take the #2 spot from Yahoo and Bing is on track to do that.

I also agree with what Greg said....having a "B" search engine does rank it alphabetically higher than any other search engine except, is Altavista even around anymore? Pity this didn't work with Altavista...

[url=http://img197.yfrog.com/i/ueq.jpg/]I recently had a Chinese cookie with the word "bing" on it.[/url] Apparently it means "disease".

I always thought the point of the name was that you type something in the search box, and BING! there it is.

That was before I saw any official marketing material. Now I'm just confused.

I can't help but think that Bing is a geek joke from Microsoft -- a [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recursive_acronym]recursive acronym[/url]. You see, "Bing Is Not Google".

Brandon thats awesome// Sort of like [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNU]Gnu's Not Unix[/url]. -- haven't seen this before.

Carmella Bing is the only Bing for me.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmella_Bing

I think Bing is quite good. I agree it won't overtake Google as a household name, but the search engine itself seems decent, for a Google clone. Then again, MS historically has done a bad job at getting people excited about search, first with MSN Search then with Windows Live... I predict this won't be MS's last rebranding.

All great points.

About your last point though, I would venture to say that quite a few people who use google have no idea that it comes from googol, the huge number. Maybe even the large majority, if I'm to take an unscientific survey about what people think browsers are seriously (apparently only 8% knew, most people thought google was a browser).

And besides, there are plenty of names that have nothing to do with their domain, some of the best names even. Like Virgin, and Apple for example. Though they're also not names that don't mean anything at all, unlike Bing. Unless it actually does mean Bing Is Not Google. That would be cool, but yeah right.

love the fortune cookie pic.

i give Bing 2-3 years before it's rebranded or folded into some Microsoft intellisearch netspeak lightvibe cloud-computing real-time search doohickey. for all its polish bing is still a product. google is an institution (even if its secretly also a product).

Interesting, according to http://www.who.is/whois/bing.com/ Bing was registered way back in 1996. Does MS just have a vault of domain names they're sitting on?

I would like to say "I banged the Internet the whole evening yesterday" with a positive sexual connotation!!! I like mind-playing and being a little ironic but not know how or when or if I was playing around!! Yeah! "I screwed the internet yesterday!" What about screw? Like screw stopper?!!! Screw it!!! Yeah sounds right!!! Need a screwdriver??? Do you know how to find it? Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!! Screw it!!!

http://www.thinkbabynames.com/meaning/1/Bing

Whenever I think of Bing, I think of Chandler Bing, easily the most annoying and hapless of the Friends. Hell, the guy couldn't even get his subscription of TV Guide delivered to his apartment with the right name on it. Who was it addressed to? Chanandler Bong. Really, when I think of Bing, I think of Chanandler Bong. Like the TV Guide, Microsoft was unable to get the name right on this one.

Another great Bing pic (via reddit):

http://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/8oti2/seemslikebingcomisindexingadifferent/

It ends in G. Not good.

OMG I didn't even know what you were talking about until I just this morning saw a commercial for Bing... does anybody really use that? I just google. :-)

I personally think that using Google as a verb would have been a really awkard and geeky idea fifteen years ago, too. But i'm not a natural english speaker, so most language point apply differently to me as i fail to catch most non obvious word similarity or accent/fluently problems until pointed out.

Anyway i think it will be an hard hillclimbing for Microsoft, personally the first thing i do when i install Windows on some computer, mine or for friends, before even installing drivers, or anything, is installing Firefox with Google as homepage. I can't see Microsoft nowhere near getting the search engine market.

I think comparing Bing to a bag of three day old cheese puffs is needlessly harsh.

On the cheese puffs. ;-)

ring bing bong ring a bing bing bing bong keep your heads ringin'

Bing is the worst because it is so obviously trying to be a household word (ala google)...the problem is that you can't try to create a catch word or catch phrase...they just happen (hence the catch).

This is like the creepy feeling a teenager gets when their parents try (in vain) to use some kind of current slang....awkward!

This will soon be archived with Microsoft Live as yet another attempt to be something that they aren't.

Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta go bing.

This article had me in stitches. And the sad part is that I agree with everything you say, James. You've written exactly what I would say if I had your unsurpassed language skills and humor :P

What I agree with most is the idea of "Bing" being fabricated. Something about Google emerging from the blood sweat and tears of a few young entreprenuers makes it far more loveable than a product formulated by excess amounts of money and a dying urge for market power.

I kind of like "Bonk" better!

I think it is (recycle) BIN Google. Internally, they are getting sick of this whole search engine runaround. Maybe they should have named it binY.

Can someone please start, with immediate effect, a "Get BING bunged" campaign! Comments for a new one please. One syllable is too short, 2 is best, and don't even think it will beat Goooogle, try for a great comparison. Can I start with - "Savvy". Get going Lads!!!

bing means sick in chinese. bing (?)!mean ill. so bad name

"Google" is a terrible name. It sounds natural, though - because it's been so ubiquitous for the last fifteen years. Most of the points in this blog entry boil down to this. Not that I expect Bing to catch on, though.

It's the same thing as with the name Obama. Two years ago, people were completely sure that America could never elect someone with a name so foreign (and with the whole Obama/Osama thing), nowadays angry Internet conservatives actually have to resort to calling him Barry Soetero to make him sound scarier and more foreign, as endless repetition has made the name Obama sound as American as apple pie.

Wouldn't it have ben great if they'd called it Bonk? I'm bonking... unfortunately this word has a completely different connotation in North America as to to the rest of the world... try bonking it....(?*!#)

Heh, you probably don't know that origin of name Bing is one smart fellow from microsoft Marketing department. He said that we have to put google to the bin. So we Bin Google. And there's name for it. bing.com

"Get Bing Bunged". Brilliant!

Bing actually means disease or sickness in chinese. I think that the word "disease" actually describes bing quite well. Also, like all diseases, it must be cured. BING MUST DIE!

I think that the word "Bing" came from the word "Bingo". "Bingo" is a word that few people shout out loud when they found something that make them solve their problems, and this is about the searching. This word could mean like "Found it!". Bing gives ideas, suggestions that may lead you to your search in no time. We don't need much time to search about. Of course it may happens but rarely, right? That's all I think about the word "Bing", maybe it means something bad, but doesn't it also mean "BINGO" ?

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