OUR VIEW: McDonald's not loving the OED

Doctors warn that fast food is bad for your health. Now, linguists might soon say McDonald's is bad for your vocabulary. McDonald's is using the power of its golden war chest to take on the Oxford English Dictionary. The battle rages over the dictionary's inclusion of the word "McJob," which was coined by author Douglas Coupland in 1991. The official definition is "a low-paid job with few prospects, typically taken by an overqualified person."
Norwalk Reflector Staff
Jul 25, 2010

 

Doctors warn that fast food is bad for your health. Now, linguists might soon say McDonald's is bad for your vocabulary.

McDonald's is using the power of its golden war chest to take on the Oxford English Dictionary. The battle rages over the dictionary's inclusion of the word "McJob," which was coined by author Douglas Coupland in 1991. The official definition is "a low-paid job with few prospects, typically taken by an overqualified person."

The fast-food giant objects and is lobbying the Oxford English Dictionary in hopes the definition will be changed or the word removed completely. It is an image battle for the corporation, which argues the term and its definition denigrates its employees.

We wonder if corporate officials see the irony of waging an image battle when their company mascot is a clown, because the issue is laughable. Language is ever changing, and the dictionary company said it only takes words in use by the public and finds the most accurate definition. McDonald's is great at making McNuggets, but it should leave recognizing and defining words to the experts.

For its part, officials at the Oxford English Dictionary are looking for feedback from the public on "McJob." But, at the end of the day, the braintrust at Britain's dictionary of record must make the final choice and they must do the right thing for the right reasons. It will set a terrible precedent if they allow themselves be bullied by corporate lawyers, lest we end up with a McDictionary, which will have the mental nutrition of a happy meal.

Some McDonald's workers told Time they found the term derogatory. But many derogatory words, as well as the dreaded four letter words, are found in the Oxford English Dictionary. If they are in use, they are in the dictionary, offensive or not. Besides, "McJob" is not, as McDonald's lobbyists argue, a knock on those employees in the ever-expanding service industry. It is a dig at the employers that choose not to offer high pay, benefits or opportunities for advancement.

If McDonald's is genuine when it claims to Time that the word should be redefined as "a job that is stimulating, rewarding ... and offers skills that last a lifetime," it should look, not at the dictionary, but within its own company. McDonald's should start with higher wages and benefits that would allow employees to live a comfortable, sustainable lifestyle, even if there is still little room to move up the corporate arches. If the company wants to change the dictionary, that's the way to go about it.