Not Saussure

March 22, 2007

McDonalds objects to the English language

Filed under: hubris, Linguistics — notsaussure @ 12:57 am

Via Boing Boing, the English-language edition of Der Spiegel reports that McDonalds is to launch a campaign to persuade the OED to remove its definition of McJob,

An unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector.


“Dictionaries are supposed to be paragons of accuracy. And it this case, they got it completely wrong,” Walt Riker, a Mickey D’s McSpokesman complained to the Associated Press. “It’s a complete disservice and incredibly demeaning to a terrific work force and a company that’s been a jobs and opportunity machine for 50 years.”

The company says it will kick off its campaign in May in an attempt to change the “out-of-date” definition, as McDonald’s spokeswoman Amanda Pierce called the McJob entry.

This, of course, suggests that Mr Riker and Ms Pierce are worryingly unfamiliar with the nature and purpose of a dictionary. Dictionaries are, indeed, supposed to be paragons of accuracy, in that they accurately describe the meaning of words, in the sense of how they are used; ‘McJob’, whether McDonalds likes it or not, means exactly what the OED says it does. As Cory Doctorow puts it in Boing Boing,

Let’s be clear: the job of a dictionary is to record language as it is spoken, and people clearly say “McJob” to mean a crummy job.

I’m delighted to see, though, that the OED is having none of Ronald McDonald’s nonsense; they sent a statement to Der Spiegel saying,

We can confirm that we monitor changes in the language and reflect these in our definitions, according to the evidence we find.

Der Spiegel also gleefully points out that the OED’s disparagement of the Golden Arches doesn’t stop there. It has an entire entry for the prefix Mc used in this sense:

2. Chiefly somewhat depreciative. a. Prefixed chiefly to nouns to form nouns with the sense ‘something that is of mass appeal, a standardized or bland variety of or alternative to

{emem}’. Cf. also MCJOB n.

1982 N.Y. Times (Nexis) 17 Oct. I. 63 Some dismiss the newspaper [sc. USA Today], with its flood of short articles, as journalistic junk food, or ‘McPaper’. 1985 Washington Post 13 Apr. 12 ‘Surgicenters’ and ‘quick care centers’ that have sprung up in business districts and shopping centers. There are 2,500 such miniclinics{em}sometimes dubbed ‘McDoctors’{em}today. 1994 Guardian 5 Aug. II. 7/5 When you want a real policeman..a McPoliceman just won’t fill the gap. McPolicemen without full powers..are the latest in a long line of McPolicies with which we are already swamped. 1995 Weekend Austral. 24-5 June (Review Suppl.) 3/4 a Hollywood studio executive whose boyfriend has tried to get her to read Men Are From Mars: ‘I call it McTherapy… It’s quick and easy and for the masses.’ 2000 N.Y. Times 4 May B1/5 Why best-selling authors become producers of McThrillers.

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  1. Isn’t living language superb.

    Maybe McDonalds should take the view that all publicity is good advertising.

    Best regards

    Comment by Nigel Sedgwick — March 22, 2007 @ 9:00 am

  2. I have done a McTake on this in relation to the McNoJobs and their latest McCatburger…

    Comment by jailhouselawyer — March 22, 2007 @ 9:54 am

  3. Wouldn’t McDonalds’ time be better spent talking to employees about how working practices could be improved? Then maybe their name wouldn’t be synonymous with the worst work experience it is possible to have.

    Comment by Noosa Lee — March 22, 2007 @ 5:37 pm

  4. This post really amused me. So much so, I have already quoted it to people in conversation today.
    McDonalds are a spent force anyway. Their new strategy is daft. People who want healthy foods go to places associated with healthy eating. You go to McDonalds to get cheap junk food. I think BK will overtake them very soon.

    Comment by Crushed by Ingsoc — March 22, 2007 @ 7:13 pm

  5. I feel like vomiting whenever that characteristic McSmell enters my nostrils.

    What I find bizarre is their claim that working at McDonalds can, contrary to Oxford’s definition, further one’s career. Their evidence? Half of their ‘executive team’ started out in their restaurants. That’s what, 6 people, max? out a total workforce (in the US) of perhaps as high as a hundred thousand or so?
    Hmm, really aspirational.

    Language Log has the full story.

    Comment by Jaŋari — March 23, 2007 @ 6:16 am

  6. I have never understand the way in which meainstream discussions of work never seem to take into account hierarchical pyramids – even if we all got ourselves educated, even if we all worked really hard, there can only be a dozen or so people on the executive team at any one time.

    Comment by AJ Bartlett — March 23, 2007 @ 7:45 pm

  7. In fairness to McDonalds, they have a far better promotion system than any job I’ve ever worked in.

    Comment by James — March 24, 2007 @ 12:21 pm

  8. Hello peoplec20e06ed0f54b77e2ebf192d1c61b75e

    Comment by Yhanks you — February 1, 2008 @ 6:48 am

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