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What's a McJob?

The giant McDonald's fast-food corporation is not just serving 50 million people a day in 119 countries. It's also polishing its image among wordsmiths. McDonald's is about to launch a campaign in Britain to convince publishers to purge the word "McJobs" from dictionaries. The biggest target is the venerable Oxford English Dictionary, often regarded as the arbiter of correct English usage. Even the Voice of America turns to this weighty British publication to settle disputes over words.

But McDonald's effort is not just a British story. The company tried and failed to get Merriam-Webster, the American publisher of the world's best-selling dictionary, to delete the "McJobs" word from its compendium. Merriam-Webster argued the definition -- as low-paying work with few advancement prospects -- is accurate. Oxford goes farther. It also calls McJobs "unstimulating."

McDonald's -- and some U.S. executives and government officials who got their start flipping burgers -- object. They note that more than 1,000 owners of McDonald's franchises worked their way up from the food line. A McDonald's spokesman calls the company "an opportunity machine."

While McDonald's jousts with the lexicographers, it has a bigger semantic fight. Houses that are grossly oversized for their neighborhoods are now called "McMansions." "McPaintings" are mass-produced works of dubious value, like paint-by-number exercises. And some people call it "McDonaldization" when companies or industries become more standardized, controlling and dependent on low-paid, usually non-union workers. At McDonald's corporate headquarters in Illinois, this is giving executives a super-sized McHeadache.