Gary Littman


Garry Littman is the owner and director of The Language House in Geneva which organises English language training for professional people, companies and students. He was a radio and newspaper journalist in his native Australia and ran a restaurant in Kathmandu in his younger days. He is an English language trainer and an aficionado of pétanque.

McDonalds does give a fork. I received one in the post.

Well, it seems McDonalds does give a fork.

I received a shiny silver fork in a lovely red box this week along with a letter of apology from McDonalds’ advertising agency, TBWA Switzerland.

The fork-in-the-post arrived after criticism (read here) of the fast food giant’s national advertising campaign (see below) which uses the expression: We don’t give a fork.


It’s a wordplay (jeu de mots) with (1), the proven culinary fact that hamburgers (and pizzas) always taste better when eaten with hands (sans fourchette) and (2), an expression: We don’t give a fuck which according to McDonalds is a fun way to use the f-word. In reality, it’s a rude, crude and highly aggressive way to say: I don’t care (je m'en fiche).

It’s an expression used by angry people; especially pissed-off (angry) adolescents, rap artists and venomous people who comment on websites.

It was a bizarre choice of language-play for a company that markets itself to children.

McDonalds claims ignorance in its defence, and says that “the wordplay was meant to be joyful and a fun way to advertise their new hamburger.”

TBWA Switzerland, which is part of the world’s largest advertising group, the Omnicom Group wrote:

"We did not write the f-word and we certainly do not mean the f-word – but we were aware that one can understand it in such a way – and find it humourous. Because for us, who are not native English speakers, the f-word certainly does not have such a rude meaning as it might have to native speakers – fuck in Switzerland is an everyday word said by many people in joyful occasions: Fuck; I can’t believe it. Fuck this is great! And as we understand it, it certainly does not have the aggressive tone it might once have had. Well, this was our assumption."

F*ck is probably the colloquial Queen of all English words. It’s more versatile than a Swiss Army knife, able to twist and morph into almost every grammatical form; a verb, noun, adjective and adverb. It can be used to express the complete range of human emotions, especially the darker and more violent ones. The f-word probably comes from Old German; ficken/fucken meaning 'to strike or penetrate'.

The f-word is used 506 times in the Martin Scorsese film The Wolf of Wall Street. That’s 2.8 f-words per minute or a total of 4 minutes and 29 seconds of f*cks.

But my favourite is Four Weddings and a Funeral which starts with a series of f-words.

It’s pretty forking funny, but not really a word associated with a family restaurant.

Clearly some of the subtleties, or lack of subtleties associated with the word are lost on those who speak English as a second language. Surprisingly, they were also lost on the world’s largest advertising group. ‘Joy’ is definitely not the over-riding emotion associated with the f-word.

The f-word is a magnet for creative agencies like TBWA whose core product and philosophy is called disruption, which it has now registered and owns as DISRUPTION ®.

WTF? (What the fork?) is that, you may ask. You may think disruption is when your three year old child throws a tantrum and his or her hamburger on the floor in a busy restaurant, or when your frozen thick-shake ends up in your lap just as you see a police car in the rear vision mirror.

The TBWA website has a different definition:

We start with DISRUPTION® at the core of everything we do.

DISRUPTION® is a tool for change and an agent for growth: a working methodology and a life-view philosophy.

DISRUPTION® is the art of asking better questions, challenging conventional wisdom and overturning assumptions and prejudices that get in the way of imagining new possibilities and visionary ideas.

Holy Cow! Silly me! I thought it was all about attracting more hamburger orders, not a manifesto for a New World Order.  How un-visionary of me. Next time please send me a sharp knife.

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