Culture vulture

McWord of the day
Culture Vulture was scanning the news horizon the other day from a lofty perch and spotted an Associated Press story reporting on the McDonald’s corporation’s complaint about the latest edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. It seems that, among its 10,000 or so new entries, the dictionary now includes the word “McJob,” which is defined as “low paying and dead-end work.”

McDonald’s CEO Jim Cantalupo put the company’s complaint in an open letter to Merriam-Webster that was sent out to media organizations last Friday, saying among other things that the definition was a “slap in the face to the 12 million men and women” who work in the restaurant industry.

A Reuters news agency story on the same topic quoted the disputed definition as “a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement.” Confronted by two similar but different definitions, I went to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary and typed in “McJob"; the response was that there was “no match for the requested word.” Daunted but not dissuaded, I went to Google and typed in McJob; the nearly instantaneous response was a list of approximately 8,500 Internet entries all using or discussing the word McJob, including this definition from the American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition © 2000: “Slang. A job, usually in the retail or service sector, that is low paying, often temporary, and offers minimal or no benefits or opportunity for promotion. ETYMOLOGY: Mc(Donald’s), trademark of a fast-food restaurant chain (from its mass-produced nature) + job.” It appears American Heritage beat Merriam-Webster to the punch by four years with no objections being raised by McDonald’s.

When the world’s largest “restaurant” chain starts threatening the world’s lexicographers with legal action for defining a word based on common perceptions of their business practices, you can bet a whole slew of McLawyers will have their McWork cut out for ’em for years to come.

‘Desperados waiting for a train’
It’s been 30 years since I first heard those words sung by Jerry Jeff Walker, and the song they come from, by Texas songwriter Guy Clark, has been a favorite of mine ever since. The tale of a young kid’s affection for an old man who’s “a drifter, a driller of oil wells” is one of the finest poetic examinations of mortality and friendship ever written and is carried along by one of the sweetest, most melancholy melodies ever played on a flat-top box guitar. So it was a great pleasure to hear the song directly from the source on Tuesday night during Clark’s show at Sierra Nevada’s Big Room.

Clark and his musical partner, Verlon Thompson, played nearly three hours full of songs ringing with poetry and wisdom sifted from the dust of the Texas plains and scraped from the streets and barroom floors of towns like Dallas, Houston and Austin. The only thing that came close to marring the perfection of set and setting was the incessant howling and chattering of some kind of machinery in the adjacent brewery on the other side of the wall from where I was sitting in the back corner of the room. But even the infernal noise couldn’t detract from the pleasure of seeing a true master songwriter having a good time at work.