McLanguage: Hey, it could happenTM
By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
27 June 2001
You've heard of Chicken McNuggets and the Golden Arches. They've long been trademarks identifying the McDonald's Corporation, purveyor of cheap hamburgers to most of the planet.
How about the phrase "changing the face of the world", though? Or "hey, it could happen!" Or "have you had your break today"? According to the company website, McDonald's has trademarks on these too, a sign that advertising and free use of the English language are becoming increasingly incompatible in today's corporate America.
The McDonald's website lists a total of 131 words and phrases of which it claims ownership. Some are names of their products or those of their affiliates: the Teriyaki McBurger, or the McGrilled Chicken. Some are unmistakable parts of the McDonald's corporate universe, like the "Hamburger University" near company headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, which serves as a management training centre for its employees.
A trademark, it has to be said, does not entitle a company to own a word or phrase. It is still all right to write "hey it could happen!" in a novel or a newspaper article without running the risk of civil litigation. But it does cover all commercial uses, for example as the tagline in a newspaper or television advertisement.
The McDonald's trademark list includes an intriguing entry, twoallbeefpatties-