McDonald's Newspeak: Unwanted words purged from dictionaries
(Note: Scroll down for updates)
In its most recent, eleventh, edition, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary included the word "McJob", defined as "a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement ".
McDonald's CEO has protested and called this "an inaccurate description of restaurant employment" and "a slap in the face to the 12 million men and women" who work in the restaurant industry. (Quoted from McDonald's Decries Webster Over 'McJob', Yahoo news, Nov 8. Note that the definition that Yahoo gives is not exactly what Merriam-Webster stated.)
Early November 10, the word "McJobs" was listed at Merriam-Webster's own web page with examples of new words in the recent edition: see this cached version at Google (or see a pdf-version of that page here). A few hours later, the word had disappeared from that page.
A lexicon is descriptive. When a word has been used - and "McJobs" has been used since 1986, according to Merriam-Webster - it is the responsibility of the lexicographer to include it and explain it. But Merriam-Webster seem to have folded under pressure. According to the Yahoo article, McDonalds seem to be threatening to use trademark laws to eliminate the word:
"Walt Riker, a spokesman for McDonald's, said the Oak Brook, Ill.-based fast-food giant also is concerned that 'McJob' closely resembles McJOBS, the company's training program for mentally and physically challenged people.What is McJOBS? McDonalds web site has departements for Social responsibility, People promise and Careers. There is no information on McJOBS anywhere in these sections. An on-site search for McJOBS gives zero hits.
Possibly, there's an information strategy surfacing here. If your company gets a bad-sounding nickname, quickly register it (or something as legaly reasonably close as possible) as a trademark. If possible, give it a context of charity - and send the lawyers after anyone who dares to use it.
(So one should try to find out: when was the trademark McJobs registered? Is there any kind of activity at all behind it?)
The whole thing reeks strongly of Orwellian Newspeak:
The whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought (...) Its vocabulary was so constructed as to (...) excluding all other meanings and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words , but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, Orwell wrote in the post script to 1984 abouth the fictious eleventh (sic!) edition of the newspeak dictionary.
Ironically, Merriam-Webster has their own page about "Newspeak" where we are encouraged to "Practice your freedom. Drop us a line. Our e-mail address:" firstname.lastname@example.org".
Do that. Support the inclusion of "McJobs" in modern dictionaries and protest against a company that tries to limit free speech and free thought.
Update, Nov 11: A look at the code for Merriam-Webster's page with new words also shows that the "McJobs" item was pulled November 10:
Update, Nov 11: I've got a few e-mails from Merriam-Webster's, admitting that they did remove "McJob" from the promo page at their web site, but offering no explanation. However, they insisted, rather convincingly, that the word would not be removed from the dictionary:
"Not to worry - we tend to use these brouhahas as an opportunity to explain to people what dictionaries are all about. We're not going to budge an inch!", one representative of Merriam-Webster wrote. Also: "Believe me, we've had many complaints about many definitions that people find offensive, and the company has always held a firm line about telling the truth about English words."
Merriam-Webster told CNN basically the same thing on Tuesday; that it "stands by the accuracy and appropriateness" of its definition. (See link among the comments to this entry - thank you, Anne.)
But why then did Merriam-Webster remove the word from the marketing page yesterday? Just a coincidence, according to a (somewhat unconvincing) explanation given by M-W spokesman Arthur Bicknell to The Register: "We're revising the marketing page, beginning with McJob. Eventually the whole page will be revised."
The Register's Andrew Orlowski also found the interesting answer to my question about McDonald's "McJobs" trademark:
"McDonald's first registered the term on May 16 1984, as a name and image for 'training handicapped persons as restaurant employees'. "So McDonald's trademark application actually preceded Merriam-Webster's recorded first known use of the term, which was in 1986. But:
"But the trademarked lapsed in February 1992, and was declared 'Dead' by the United States Patent Office. Following the publication of Douglas Coupland's smash 'Generation X' in paperback edition in October 1992 (the book first appeared in 1991), which popularized the term, McDonald's restored the trademark."Update, Nov 12: Full official statement from Merriam-Webster:
"As for the missing 'McJob' on the New Words Sampler, we felt as though there was enough misinformation and incomplete information circulating that it would be best to let the full entry and not the shorter excerpt speak for itself. We also found prior to the 'McJob' incident that many people were confusing the content of the 'New Word Sampler' with the full content of the Eleventh Edition of the Collegiate Dictionary. Accordingly, it is currently under revision; a new version will be restored soon online. "McJob" remains in all the manifestations of the Eleventh (CD-ROM, print, and online).Note: for a final commentary (yet only in Swedish), see Postscript: McJob.
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10 nov 2003
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