The term google has become so familiar – both as the proprietary name of the Internet search engine and as the act of searching on it – that it’s easy to disregard what a strange word it is. The company’s own explanation is that it was derived from the unofficial mathematical terms googol, or googolplex (10100 and 10 to the power of a googol, respectively), although no reason is given for the respelling. They wanted to represent the challenge of organising the huge amounts of data that exist on the web. These numerical names are themselves fanciful, apparently created by a child. The googol part is pure invention, but -plex has its origins in forms such as duplex and multiplex (equivalent to the -fold suffix, as in twofold, manifold), and comes from the ancient Greek πλέκειν, ‘to plait, or fold together’. We now tend to associate it with large structures, as in building complexes, or multiplex cinemas, and Google Inc. has played on this idea by christening its corporate headquarters in California the Googleplex. The company may continue to expand, but it would be a big ask for the scope of their office building to match the number it’s named after.

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