What does it take to scare Google? In 2009, Microsoft's launch of Bing lit a fuse under the search giant. In his recent book, In the Plex, Steven Levy explains:

The search team set up a war room, hurriedly launching an effort dubbed the skunkworks. (That appellation, first used at Lockheed aircraft during World War II, is a generic term for an off-the-books engineering effort that operates outside a company's stifling bureaucracy.)

Refining the definition, I'd say "skunkworks" is a secret effort that seeks to maximize innovation by operating outside a company's stifling bureaucracy.

Yet when trying to use the word in a sentence, I wasn't sure whether it was a noun or adjective. Is it a "skunkworks project," or just a "skunkworks"? Merriam-Webster's dictionary, which lists "Skunk Works" as a "service mark," didn't provide guidance, so I e-mailed its language research service. Trademark Editor, Daniel Brandon, replied as follows:

The full entry for “Skunk Works” on our Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary is:

Skunk Works service mark — used for research and development services

The important thing to note here is the function label, “service mark.” This means that this term is not strictly speaking a noun, adjective, or any other part of speech. It is instead a registered service mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. These are much like trademarks (which we treat in the dictionary in the same way), only it has slightly different uses and conditions.

As such, we are obliged to enter it only as the mark specifies. This is why we do not show “skunkworks,” as a lower-case closed compound.

So, I'd say that "skunkworks" may be used as an adjective or noun:

I do my best work in a skunkworks environment; skunkworks are my favorite projects.

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