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McJob – Don’t Blame the Dictionaries

Unless you’ve been hiding under the literary rock for the past month or so, you have undoubtedly heard about the “McJob” dispute that is taking hold in dictionary houses around the world. However, as you’re all literary proles, I feel that I should probably brief you:

The current definition of a McJob – according to the Oxford English Dictionary – is “an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, especially one created by the expansion of the service sector“. Basically, we’re talking about a rubbish job where you spend all day serving others, getting little in return. Job satisfaction is low and suicide rates are high… I would imagine.

As you can guess, a certain restaurant chain isn’t best pleased with this definition, and late last year decided that they were going to publicly challenge this definition with a PR campaign (“Not bad for a McJob”) and a public petition. Their goal was to get the word removed or the definition changed – three years after it first appeared in dictionaries and twenty years after its first use.

Six months later, the plight of the McJob was again raised by a number of people in a letter to the Financial Times last Thursday, calling for the removal of the word or at least an amendment of its definition. This letter was signed by Sir Digby Jones – Skills Envoy to the CBI – along with a number of CEOs, Director Generals, MPs and professors in institutions around the UK.

McDonalds photo by monkeyc.net (via flickr dot com)I can’t help but feel they are wasting their time.

Do they not realise that a dictionary presents definitions of words that are commonly used in speech and writing: the accepted lexicon of a generation? The dictionaries are not at fault for putting McJob in the dictionary… the people are. Do they really blindly believe that dictionaries abuse their position to make social commentary or to engage in corporate discrimination?

It is with this that I would like to thank Prof. Alex Callinicos for his reply: the common-sense, logical argument that was printed in the FT the next day, pointing out the Orwellian aspects of corporations and policy-makers requesting changes to the dictionary.

If McDonalds and all the other complainers want to see a change, they have to work to remove this – supposedly false – stereotype of the service industry’s jobs, not attempt to get it removed from the dictionary. If it is removed from common usage, or its definition when used is changed, the dictionaries will follow.

McDonald’s McJob Petition
“A new definition of ‘McJob’ with a side order of skills and opportunities” – Sir Digby Jones and others
“Orwellian tones of rebranding McJob” – Prof. Alex Callinicos
Wikipedia’s ‘McJob’ entry