"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

You want a McSubpeona with that?

News item: McDonald's Corp. is lobbying the publishers of several dictionaries in the UK, including the renowned Oxford English Dictionary, to remove the word "McJob" from their pages. As Time Magazine tells it:
First used some 20 years ago in the United States to describe low-paying, low-skill jobs that offered little prospect of advancement, the term "McJob" was popularized by the author Douglas Coupland in his 1991 slacker ode Generation X, which chronicled the efforts of a "lost" generation of twenty-somethings to escape their dead-end jobs in an attempt to find meaning in life.
Oxford defines the word as "an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, especially one created by the expansion of the service sector." The fast-food giant protests that the definition is "outdated and insulting", and instead wants the word to "reflect a job that is stimulating, rewarding, and offers skills that last a lifetime," according to a company representative.

Please. My very first job while still in high school was flipping burgers at my local Golden Arches (an "old school" McDonald's like the one pictured on the right), and the only time the job was "stimulating" was when an especially good-looking girl would come up to the window to place an order. The window guys had a signal for this event, and would shout out "88 on the front window, please" to the rest of the crew. The customers had no clue what this meant, but to our fellow McEmployees this was code for "Hey guys, check out the gazongas on this babe." I still occasionally use the phrase in jest to this day, so I guess you could indeed say that working at McDonald's taught me "skills that last a lifetime." However, I doubt this is exactly what the company had in mind.

It is well known within the industry that Mickey Dee's has a trademark on any food item beginning with the prefix "Mc", including their current menu fare as well as any other food item, irregardless of the likelihood of it being offered at the chain. Thus, not only could you not sell the public a generic "English McMuffin" or "McShake", even a "McBanana", "McTofu", or a "McGrilled McPeanutbutter and McCheese Sandwich" would probably get you in hot water as well.

But does McDonald's have the legal rights to any word beginning with the letters M-C, context notwithstanding? Probably not, but that's not stopping the company from throwing its considerable weight behind an effort to pressure Oxford into changing the dictionary. They recently managed to convince a member of Parliament to introduce a motion condemning the pejorative use of the term, and have mounted a street campaign to gather thousands of signatures on a petition that will be formally presented to the publisher next month.

Current (and past) McDonald's employees are less enthusiastic. One referred to the low pay; another complained of being on their feet for eight or more hours a day. Another employee, who preferred to remain anonymous, stated that serving customers beat his old position as a factory sweeper. But, he added, "it's just a job."

And for many people like me, it was the source of their first paycheck -- and you can take that to the McBank.



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