Redefining McJobs . . . or not

Scott Jagow Mar 20, 2007


SCOTT JAGOW: I’m sure you’ve heard the word, McJob. It’s in the dictionary, defined as an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects.” Well, McDonald’s in Britain wants dictionaries to change the definition. The company’s campaigning to have McJob mean “a job that’s stimulating, rewarding and offers skills that last a lifetime.” Financial Times columnist Stefan Stern has been following this in London. Stefan, why is McDonald’s doing this?

STEFAN STERN: I think they’ve finally had enough of feeling tarred or slurred with this phrase McJob. But I think they’re misunderstanding something about language really: We use words and they mean what we want them to mean and it’s not really for companies to dictate to us what a word means. They’ve made a good case for the fact that they’ve improved conditions in the stores and the staff get trained and have careers and so on. But it’s like fighting with the weather or the tide, trying to change the way people speak.

JAGOW: So are they getting any response from the dictionary people?

STERN: They’ve had a modest and guarded response as you might expect from the dictionary people. The Oxford English Dictionary said that of course they keep a track on language and words and so on. But if 99 people out of a hundred use the word McJob and mean something with it and one person, who may or may not be a senior executive at McDonald’s, uses it in another way, I think the 99 are gonna win that one. And I think dictionaries, they describe the language. They don’t prescribe what’s being spoken.

JAGOW: Well why does McDonald’s care so much about this? I mean business is good, people still go and eat hamburgers — billions of people.

STERN: Yeah, that’s right. Yes, it doesn’t stop them. I don’t think people stop on the doorstep and go ‘aw now I was gonna get a hamburger but all those McJobs in there, I feel awful, I’m going to go and get a pizza instead.’ If they’re so confident that they offer good jobs, well let them get on with doing that you know, and if we still use a phrase like McJobs outside, well, that doesn’t really affect the bottom line as a business.

JAGOW: Alright Stefan, thanks so much

STERN: Thank you very much.

JAGOW: Stefan Stern is a columnist with the Financial Times in London.

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