The PR team at purveyors of fast food McDonald’s must be giving themselves a slap on the back today, and not just to dislodge a piece of gristle from their oesphagus.
Their stunt of organising a petition “to change the Oxford English Dictionary definition of “McJob“, claiming that the term – established in the English language – is insulting to the thousands of staff working in the service sector” is reaping many column inches and airwave minutes.
The petition is doomed, of course. I suspect that David Fairhurst, chief people officer at McDonald’s1, struggled to keep a straight face when he said:
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.
I’ve got relatives who have done extremely well out of working for McDonald’s, and I’ve no doubt that they would agree with the idea that they have had satisfying careers there. However, I think even they would find the idea of redefining a term at the whim of a corporate behemoth somewhat Orwellian.
On the Today programme this morning, the man from the OED quite reasonably pointed out that the OED doesn’t invent words, it reflects English as it is used2, and it’s quite clear that ‘McJob’ is a pejorative term. To say it should be removed from the dictionary is like saying that racist terms should be removed because they are insulting to the people they describe.
- I’m in two minds whether ‘people’ is better or worse than ‘personnel’ (or the horrible modern term ‘human resources’). It’s admirable in its use of Plain English but one suspects the term came about less from a will to keep things simple than a desire to pretend the company cares about anything other than profit. [↩]
- Although you could argue that this means the OED should legitimise through inclusion common howlers like the misuse of the possessive apostrophe in ‘its’, or the horrific lack of comprehension that leads to ‘your’ being used instead of ‘you’re’. [↩]