Fast food giant McDonaldâ€™s has sold billions of hamburgers, but that success hasnâ€™t come without getting into a few pickles. In 2003, the company butted heads with both The Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Websterâ€™s Collegiate Dictionary over an entry they felt was disparaging to the brand. And no, it wasnâ€™t â€œcholesterol.â€
Executives were miffed that the two legitimized the word McJob.
While itâ€™s impossible to discern who exactly coined the term, it first gained popularity after being featured in Generation X, the influential 1991 novel by Douglas Coupland about disenfranchised young adults.
The Oxford English Dictionary began including the word in its 2001 edition, defining it as â€œan unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of a service sector.â€ While McDonaldâ€™s was not mentioned by name, the â€œMcâ€ made it fairly clear what sort of job and what sort of company would fit the description.
Merriam-Websterâ€™s Collegiate Dictionary followed suit in 2003, using harsher language to describe a McJob as â€œlow-paying and dead-end work.â€
In both cases, McDonaldâ€™s was not amused. Company CEO Jim Cantalupo wrote an open letter to Merriam-Webster published in the trade magazine Nationâ€™s Restaurant News objecting to the characterization. McDonaldâ€™s employees, he wrote, were undeserving of such condescension.
Things grew more confrontational in the UK, where McDonaldâ€™s reportedly considered legal action and suggested the definition of â€œMcJobâ€ be changed to reflect a â€œrewardingâ€ occupation. The Oxford English Dictionary offered a rebuttal by saying their definitions reflect popular usage, not how a particular group wished a word to be used.
When it became clear neither path was going to be feasible, the company launched an advertising campaign in 2006 to highlight new buzzwords like â€œMcWords, â€œMcFlexible,â€ â€œMcDiscounts,â€ and â€œMcProspectsâ€ to reflect the opportunities for employees.
McDonaldâ€™s was not alone in challenging perceived dictionary offenses. In 2006, Britainâ€™s Potato Council made a similar complaint against The Oxford English Dictionary for associating couch potato and thus potatoes with unhealthy living. The councilâ€™s preferred phrase, couch slouch, failed to catch on.
[h/t Readerâ€™s Digest]