Gary Littman

OWNER OF THE LANGUAGE HOUSE

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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