Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Humpty McDumpty

Spotted in a McDonald's recently. I first came across the definition of a McJob in Generation X:


A low-pay, low-prestige, low-dignity, low-benefit, no-future job in the service sector. Frequently considered a satisfying career choice by people who have never held one.

I used to think Douglas Coupland just made that one up, but a quick visit to Wikipedia suggests that term was in use before Coupland's 1991 novel:

McJob" was in use at least as early as 1986, according to the Oxford English Dictionary  (OED), which defines it as "An unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector."

Wikipedia isn't necessarily accurate or definitive in all cases, but I see no reason to doubt it in this case. 

Unsurprisingly, McDonald's don't like the phrase. A couple of years or so back, I remember hearing that the fast food giant's corporate PR goons were lobbying to have the dictionary definition changed to something more complementary.

I'd forgotten all about this campaign until recently, when I saw McDonald's using the phrase "McJob" on a piece of official promotional material in one of their establishments. McDonald's are still putting a lot of effort into spinning the phrase "McJob" to mean something positive. When I Googled McJob just now, top page rank went to the official McDonald's site, second place to an official petition from the spin-meisters at the Golden Arches, complaining bitterly that the dictionary definition of "McJob" is 'out of date' and 'insulting' to people working in McDonalds. Netizens are invited to add their names to a docment asking dictionaries to change to the following corporate-approved, definition of "McJob":

It’s time the dictionary definition of McJob changed to reflect a job that is stimulating, rewarding and offers genuine opportunities for career progression and skills that last a lifetime.

In an even more bizarre twist:

McJOBS (plural, uppercase) was first registered as a trademark  by McDonald's on May 16, 1984, as a name and image for "training handicapped persons as restaurant employees". The trademark lapsed in February 1992, and was declared "Canceled" by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Following the October 1992 publication of Generation X in paperback, McDonald's restored the trademark.

When Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary  included "McJob" in its 2003 edition, McDonald's officials implied they might bring a lawsuit based on the use of this trademark, but they never quite had the chutzpah (or stupidity) to proceed with such an outrageous action.

You know what - good dictionaries aren't written by neutered, officially-sanctioned corporate toadies, but by people trying to record real language, in its all richness, inventiveness and irreverence and I'm lovin' it just the way it is.

When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less