Monday, May 28, 2007

Wordplay

My brother recently directed me to an article about McDonald's (and others) looking to change the defintion of McJob as it appears in the Oxford English Dictionary.

For the record, here's how it stands:
an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector
And here's what McDonald's would like it to be:
to reflect a job that is stimulating, rewarding and offers genuine opportunities for career progression
The exact opposite defintion.

Frankly the OED seems much more related to how people would use it, but that's not a reason for McDonald's to not try to influence the definition. The OED is not god and do not have a monopoly of what a word is. Words, remember, are not products of governments or companies or even societies. They emerge from the interaction of all these entities (along with many others).

"McJob" is a very new word, but socially established enough that people have pretty good idea what it means. That's why McDonald's efforts don't really bother me: no one's going to buy it. They'd have much better luck arguing that McJobs tend to be entry-level. That at least works with everyone else's established conceptions.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Actually the word McJob has been around for over 2 decades. Wiki traces it back to 1986 by sociologist Amitai Etzioni.

If McDs isn't happy with how McJobs is defined, then they shouldn't have treated their workers so poorly. Back then their employees were abused to the point of class-action lawsuits being won. Abuses like denying vacation days after they were approved, unpaid overtime, bullying kids to work longer hours than they should and doing tasks they shouldn't.

OED isn't playing god or claiming it has a monolopy. It's more like a news service but instead of reporting on events, it's reporting on words and their definitions. Trying to change a word by pressuring OED is like trying to change the past by changing the history books.

I sent you this article because it's an example of how corporations try to spin reality.

Jason

David said...

In the history of words two decades is pretty new, particularly given its frequency of use. For constrast, to "goggle" something is firmly established (despite that it's younger) because it's so commonly used. Virtually everyone knows what it means to google something.

All people--not just corporations--try to spin reality. We all push our opinion. The key is that we don't have to accept it. But to get angry because one institution might change a definition because another institution's lobbying is absurd. Words are not handed down by a god. They emerge and evolve over time. If you don't like McDonald's take on it, ignore it. I have a feeling everyone else will, too.

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