Thursday, May 24, 2007

Talking McBollocks

The silly story of the day has been Ronald McDonald's attempt to rewrite the dictionary. It seems the burger company does not like the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of the word "McJob":

"an unstimulating low-paid job with few prospects".
According to the BBC:

The current definition is extremely insulting to the 67,000 people who work for us within the UK," said McDonald's senior vice president David Fairhurst.

"It is also insulting for everyone else who works in the wider restaurant and tourism sectors.

"It is time for us now to make a stand and get the Oxford English Dictionary to change the definition."

This is, of course, a load of McBollocks. The role of a dictionary is to reflect the language as it actually exists, not as some interest group would like it to exist.

Besides, part of the richness of the English language is the way that it contains all sorts of outdates attitudes. Take all those derogatory terms like "Dutch courage," "Dutch uncle" and "Dutch auction". These date from a time in the late seventeenth century when Britain was at law with the Netherlands - there is more about these expressions on World Wide Words.

No doubt these expressions are a libel on the excellent people of Holland, but somehow they have managed to live with them. Equally, working at McDonald's may be as wonderful as the company says, with the nation's brightest youngsters opting for a McJob rather than going into engineering or the law. But that doesn't mean that the company should be allowed anywhere near the OED.

I suppose the wonderful democracy of language, in which we all play a part in its development, is too good to last in these insecure days. Perhaps we shall see a committee of experts - including David Fairhurst and the Clive Betts, the tame Labour MP he has recruited - appointed to modernise the language so that it no longer contains old-fashioned anti-business attitudes.

2 comments:

James Graham said...

There's also "Welshing" which appears depressingly apposite given the current state of politics in Cardiff.

It seems to me that by doing this, it isn't just McDonald's fries that are French. Their whole attitude to language would appear to be strikingly similar.

Anonymous said...

The word McJob originated in the Douglas Coupland book, "Generation X". The book even has a glossary of this and other words, for those who are interested.