Parlez-vous McSpeak? By Emily Smart
I like McDonald’s. In fact, what’s not to like? They make big fat greasy burgers that can cure even the worst hangover, they have indoor play facilities that keep the kids busy while you try and read a newspaper, and the small people are given a piece of plastic that either waves, makes a loud noise or flashes, and is invariably broken before you can say ‘Get in your car seat please.’ Leaving the politics of obesity and the dodgy bloke in the clown outfit to one side, one thing that struck me on my last visit is the way this global business has managed to create its own language which is one that millions of people throughout the world are willing to speak.
I’ll explain what I mean. Picture the scene: I’m in my car with a rabble of small children screaming orders in the back as I enter the ‘Drive-thru’ (clearly there are no spelling police in McDonald’s country); I then spend three quarters of an hour shouting at a black faceless box trying to place an order (natives of McDonald’s evidently have trouble understanding words outside of their mother tongue), and then I find myself adopting the language invented by Ronald McD himself:
“Can I have three Happy Meals please? Yes, with Chicken McNuggets, a Filet-o-Fish and a McChicken Burger.”
What the bloody hell is a Happy Meal? Are the ingredients generally content with life –‘ooh this crispy coating makes me feel like a million dollars!’ Why would they be happy? Or is it that they intend to make the recipient happy? What is a McNugget, a McMuffin or a Big Mac? In my day, the latter was something you put on to avoid getting soaked in the rain.
You can’t deny the sheer genius of the clever bods in charge of the Golden Arches brand. Not only do they employ ‘pester power’ tactics to flog us dead cow in a bun, using toys, clowns and play areas, but they have also managed to get us to buy into their universal language. Seriously, I’m lovin’it!
Anyway, after our trip to the land of the big white bun, we decided to spend the rest of the day practising McSpeak. This involved putting the letters M and a small c in front of everything. ‘The weather was terrible, it wouldn’t stop McRaining’ or ‘can you put the McTv on, I’m just going to the McToilet.’ And so it went on. Yes, I know, rather strange, but such things actually pass for entertainment in my household.
The whole experience got me thinking, so I decided to do a bit of research and was slightly overwhelmed at the number of brand names that have become part of our everyday vocabulary. I find that I am guilty of using these commercially created words. I always Hoover and don’t vacuum, I use Sellotape not sticky tape, I create meals with my Crock-Pot not my slow cooker, I Google things rather than look them up and I listen to music on my iPod not my portable media player.
Upon further investigation, and a quick trip to Wikipedia, I discovered that there is a term (well three actually) for this type of word:
‘A generic trademark, also known as a genericized trademark or proprietary eponym, is a trademark or brand name that has become thecolloquial or generic description for, or synonymous with, a general class of product or service, rather than as an indicator of source or affiliation (‘secondary meaning’) as intended by the trademark’s holder.’
However, being an old-fashioned Brit at heart, I do draw the line at using the Kiwi words Glad Wrap and Handee Towels, preferring to stick with cling film and kitchen roll instead. Whilst I fully understand that a Happy Meal might be smiley, especially for small people, I really don’t see what Glad Wrap has got to be so smug about.
So what’s the upshot of all these brand words infiltrating our daily parlance and more importantly, what impact do they really have on the English language?
Pardon my McSpeak, but frankly, who gives a McFxxk?!