Friday, 25 May 2007


The Oxford English Dictionary defines a McJob as 'an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, especially one created by the expansion of the service sector'.

In April 2006 McDonald's UK Press Office issued a press release announcing 'a bold, disruptive new campaign' to 'redefine the phrase 'McJob'. The campaign featured the slogan, 'Not bad for a McJob'. David Fairhurst, Vice President, People, McDonald's, was quoted as saying: "The existing definition of McJob is outdated.. ...this campaign tackles the McJob perception head on." If you visit McDonald's UK corporate web site you'll find the same McJob slogan, amongst the references to McProspects, McCompany Car, McPackage, McDiscounts, McValued, etc.

One might conclude.....(leaving aside that McDonald's press office is so illiterate that it doesn't know the difference between a word and a phrase; ignoring the association of a fine Scottish clan with a sinister clown and diarrhoeaic abuse of the gaelic 'Mc' prefix; briefly upchucking at the concept of a 'Vice President, People') might conclude that McDonald's had itself helped to promote the term 'McJob'.

However, having failed to change public perceptions, this week McDonald's has re-launched the attempt to have the definition of the word 'McJob' in the Oxford English Dictionary expunged or replaced. There is to be a public petition (puhlease!), and the company has enlisted various 'names' to support its manipulative campaign. These reportedly include former CBI supremo Sir Digby Jones, David Frost (not the David Frost, a David Frost), and several MPs.

Labour MP Clive Betts has sponsored an Early Day Motion deploring the use of derogatory terms for service sector jobs (yes, the same Mr Betts who was suspended from the House of Commons by the Committee on Standards and Privileges, which observed that his conduct had fallen 'well below the standard expected of a Member, in terms of maintaining and strengthening the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament and never undertaking any action which would bring the House of Commons, or its Members generally, into disrepute').

This time round McDonald's is saying that, 'It's time the dictionary definition of McJob was changed to reflect a job that is stimulating, rewarding and offers opportunities for career progression and skills that last a lifetime'. Yeah. Stimulating. Skills. Right.

I cannot say whether McDonald's are right in disagreeing with the OED definition. The only friend I have who worked there was Bob. He spoke well of the McDonald's career structure, having progressed to supervisor in about five minutes. However, he retired from the company after a few months and opened a pottery in Souillac in southern France. I'm not sure whether the skills he gained behind the counter contributed greatly in later life. His pots don't resemble Happy Meals, but I suppose preparation and moulding of clay may have something in common with McDonald's meat processing.

However, accuracy isn't the point. Dictionaries should reflect usage, not corporate, service sector or governmental aspirations. Attempts by McDonald's and its toadies to control the meaning of our language should be viewed with disdain and maybe sound alarm bells. Given that McDonald's failed to have a similarly unfavourable entry removed from the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2003, perhaps it simply sees the campaign as an opportunity for some cheap, high profile recruitment and brand promotion. However, the MPs should know better. Think of Newspeak in Orwell's 1984:

'The...vocabulary consisted of words which had been deliberately constructed for political purposes: words...intended to impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person using them'

They should watch out. It may not be long before the OED acknowledges public perception and changes its definition of a politician from 'one skilled in politics, statesman', to 'one practised in misleading the people, untrustworthy, manipulative, grasping.'

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