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Martin Laplante

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Mon, 26 Mar 2007

McJob in the Pickwickian Sense

As I mentioned before, some lawyers like to intimidate dictionaries. The latest instance is McDonald's, who objects to the definition of McJob in the OED among other dictionaries.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines McJob as "an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector". McDonald's wants it changed to "a job that is stimulating, rewarding and offers genuine opportunities for career progression and skills that last a lifetime." This is according to a letter written by David Fairhurst, chief people officer in northern Europe for McDonald's, and obtained by the Financial Times.

What the company fails to appreciate is that dictionaries are not opinion leaders, they are timid followers. They add or change a definition only after people have been using a term to mean something consistently for a few years. The only way that major dictionaries will change their definition is if McDonald's and everyone else start using the term to mean "stimulating, rewarding job which offers excellent career prospects". I look forward to seeing those want ads offering "McJobs" without having to specify that it is meant in a positive sense.

I tend to ignore requests to change definitions for the purpose of PR. There is one exception. I got a letter some time back complaining about the term "warlike" in the definition of Blackfoot (indian nations of the western prairies). There is plenty of historical evidence that in the 19th century, the Blackfoot confederacy was considered warlike by neighbours of all ethnic backgrounds. Still, they were at peace a lot of the time and the adjective certainly does not apply today. But then there are plenty of nations that could objectively be called warlike, but where the word is not used in the definition. So I removed the adjective from all indian nations. Except for the Iroquois nations, after consulting several of its members who consider the warrior past and even present as a matter of pride and inherent to their ethnic identity. OK...

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