BROOKE GLADSTONE: McDonald's is outraged by the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED has an entry for "McJob," and defines it as "an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects." The term hearkens back to when all you needed to work the counter were a hairnet and a smile. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] [BEGIN FILM CLIP] WOMAN: Hi! Good to see you. May I help you? MAN: Two Big Macs and a chocolate shake. WOMAN: Would you like some French fries with your order, sir? MAN: Would that be three filet, two cheeseburgers and four Cokes? WOMAN: Here you are, sir, and come back soon. May I help you, please? MAN: The job's fun now, isn't it? You've discovered how good you feel when you make others feel good. [END FILM CLIP] BROOKE GLADSTONE: The word "McJob," said a company exec this week, is out of date and out of touch with reality. In fact, McDonald's is teaming with McProspects. The company reportedly plans a high-profile campaign to get "McJobs" out of the big book of words. Good luck with that.
Language is littered with brand names that have outgrown their brands. They're called proprietary eponyms, and mostly they just mean things like Kleenex and Band-Aid or actions like Xerox and Google. But when we put out a call on our website for eponyms, you responded – thank you very much – with examples more like McJob, words with sociological implications – Oreo and Wonder Bread, Disneyfication and Wal-Marting, Spam and Muzak. And don't forget Barbie and Ken. Like McDonald's, Mattel isn't thrilled by what its cash cows have come to represent. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER: BARBIE GIRL] BROOKE GLADSTONE: But when you've been appropriated by the popular culture, who can you sue? [BARBIE GIRL CONTINUES UP AND UNDER] BROOKE GLADSTONE: In 2003, Mattel took aim at a Danish pop group called Aqua whose submissive Barbie Girl was a self-described bimbo happy to bend in any position. Mattel said girls might be duped into thinking the song was a commercial. Mattel lost.
Now, we've got a producer on staff named Mike Vuolo, but we call him "Word Boy" because he invents words. He invented a word for proprietary eponyms most likely to rankle their corporate parents. He calls them "proprietary pejoronyms," and he anticipates with relish the day when the OED is crushed under Ronald McDonald's oversized jack boot. MIKE VUOLO: Brooke, we all know that lexicographers are weak. I mean, I know a few, and, well, they're pushovers. And let's face it, language is a zero-sum gain, so I thought, well, what's in for me. If "McJobs" will soon be out of our dictionaries, then this was my chance to get in. And "pejoronym" is my offering. I, I left a voice mail with Merriam-Webster. I haven't heard back yet. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Writing in the University of Pennsylvania's Language Log, Roger Shuy observed that maybe the company brought its McProblems on itself. Ronald McDonald had traveled around the country instructing children to add the "Mc" prefix to such words as McFries, McShakes and McVest. The purpose of the campaign, said a McDonald's VP, was to create a McLanguage – a classic case of be careful what you wish for.
Look up "Mc" – I mean, just M-C, and you'll find "prefix used to indicate an inexpensive, convenient, easy but usually low-quality or commercialized version of something. Example: McBook, McDoctor. It's enough to make you understand why a company like McDonald's might want a McLaywer. Well, actually – not a McLawyer – a good one. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week’s show. On the Media was produced by Megan Ryan, Tony Field, Jamie York and Mike Vuolo, and edited – by Brooke. Dylan Keefe is our technical director and Jennifer Munson our engineer. We had help from Peter Garner and Chris Worth. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer and John Keefe our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. This is On the Media from WNYC. I'm Brooke Gladstone. BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield.