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The "Mc" prefix in the USA is used in, for "McMansion" to mean, I think, characterless and identical (as in McDonald's restaurants which I think were the first really big chain that insisted on standardization of procedures and appearance.

But in this sketch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1sYgknWGSA from a probably late 1960s or early 1970s Monty Python show, we see (as people turn into Scotsman) this same sort of "Mc" business and I am wondering if this usage predates the USA usage -- I see "McMansion" is of 1980s vintage.

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    Give me strength! When did the English first start extracting the urine out of the Scots? Jul 6, 2023 at 0:01
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    @FumbleFingers: was that in the python sketch? if not, what do u mean?
    – releseabe
    Jul 6, 2023 at 2:20
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    I mean the English have always mocked the Scots, and "Mc" in the name has always been a convenient identifying tag - same as when we're mocking the archetypal Irishman, he's always called Paddy. But the specific belittling prefix (as in "McJob") doesn't directly relate to the Python sketch Jul 6, 2023 at 2:45
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    Nothing whatever to do with the McDonalds company; just shorthand to indicate that Woolworths has become Scottish (Scottish surnames frequently beginning with Mac or Mc, meaning 'son of' in Gaelic. Jul 6, 2023 at 8:04
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    [pedantry alert] Mac or Mc just means 'son' in Gaelic. The "of" part comes from changes to the base name.[/useless factoid]
    – Marthaª
    Jul 6, 2023 at 16:32

4 Answers 4

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The use of prefix Mc in a derogatory sense appears to predate McDonald’s and also Monty Pyton references:

Mc:

(often derogatory) Used in combination with a non-name descriptive word to form mock names. ‎Mc- + ‎shit → ‎McShit / ‎Mc- + ‎stupid → ‎McStupid/

1950 Gerald McBoing Boing (cartoon short): -"Nyah-nyah!" they all shouted. "Your name's not McCloy! You're Gerald McBoing Boing, the noise-making boy!'

1968 Eddie Jefferson "Filthy McNasty" (lyrics for a 1961 instrumental of the same name by Horace Silver):

  • His body is lean. His feet aren't clean. His mouth is real mean When he's on the scene, But all the time you hear the women really yellin' his name: Filthy McNasty.

Mc early derogatory usage with specific reference to McDonald’s dates back to 1983 according to the following source.

(by extension, derogatory) Indicating a lack of depth or worth, by association with McDonald's. ‎Mc- + ‎car → ‎McCar/ ‎Mc- + ‎church → ‎McChurch/ ‎Mc- + ‎job → ‎McJob/ ‎Mc- + ‎mansion → ‎McMansion/

1983 Wallace Marx, "It's Not How Long You Make It," New York Magazine, Vol. 16, No. 50 (19 Dec 1983), p11 Sesame Street is "McEducation." Like things served by the golden arches, Sesame Street has at once elevated the dregs and lowered the quality to mediocrity.

(Wiktionary)

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    Not to mention Boaty McBoatface
    – Jim Mack
    Jul 5, 2023 at 22:35
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    Anything that sounds like a name can be used in a derogatory or comic sense to form a name or something that looks like a name. That includes Celtic name elements like "Mac" and "O'", European particles like "von", noble titles like "Lord" (as in "Lord Snooty", "Lord and Lady Muck"), made-up Native American names (e.g. of the Xing Y format), and examples like "Pooter" which resemble real names like "Hunter" or "Walker".
    – Stuart F
    Jul 6, 2023 at 8:37
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    I remember being in a McDonald’s in 1970 and hearing two wags beleaguering a waitperson with something like "Two Big Macs, two McCoffees, McFries and McVinegar, please.' Taking the McKey. Jul 6, 2023 at 10:16
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    @StuartF Practically every culture has some other culture(s) they look down on, and make the butt of jokes. Using their naming schemes is just a part of this. So if Brits look down on Scots, McNames become comic or derogatory to them.
    – Barmar
    Jul 6, 2023 at 14:50
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J.E. Lighter, Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, volume 2 (1997) has an on-point entry for Mc- as used in the relevant sense:

Mc- prefix. {fr. McDonald's, international chain of uniform fast-food restaurants} Orig[inally] Stu[dent use] (used to emphasize the generic nature, mediocre quality, commercialization, or mass-market appeal of the following noun).—used derisively. Joc[ular]. See also [the entry for] McJob.{Discussed with extensive citations fr. 1986–88 in G Lentine and R.W. Shuy, "Mc-: Meaning in the Marketplace," A[merican] S[peech] LXV (1990), pp. 349–66.}

[First five cited examples:] 1984 Mason & Rheingold Slanguage: Mcmoon {"moon"}. 1985 Wash. Post (Apr. 13) 12, in Barnhart Dict. Comp. IV.4 ((Winter 1985) 138: "Surgicenters" and "quick care centers" that have sprung up in business districts and shopping centers. There are 2,500 such mini-clinics—sometimes dubbed "McDoctors"—today. 1986 in A[merican] S[peech] LXV (1990) 364: Three "McReads" just right for an airport layover. 1989 P. Munro U.C.L.A. Sl[ang]: MPaper poor, hurriedly written paper done without much research or forethought. 1990 New Republic (May 21) 28: The homogenization of the non-profit stage. I call this process "McTheater."

Site participants who are interested in the Winter 1990 American Speech article by Genine Lentine and Roger Shuy that Lighter cites and who have tie-ins to universities can find the article at JSTOR; as a nonscholar, I don't have access to it through this portal.

Somewhat surprisingly, although Lighter also lists instances of "McNews" and "McStar" (both from 1991); "McSchool," "McGuggenheim," "McAlternatives," and "McPublishers" (all from 1992); "McFirm" (from 1993); "McSex" (from (1995), and "McWifes and McJobs" (from 1997), it doesn't cover the very widespread term "McMansion." The earliest instance of "McMansion" that I've been able to find is from Joni Hilton, Braces, Gym Suits, and Early-morning Seminary: A Youthquake Survival Manual (1985), where it seems to refer not to a generic style of structure but to the pet name of particular building—like "McTara" or "McManderley." Use of "McMansion" in a generic sense seems to have become widespread in the early 1990s.

In any case, Lighter's description of "Mc-" as a prefix "used to emphasize the generic nature, mediocre quality, commercialization, or mass-market appeal of the following noun" can scarcely be improved on. Nor is there any doubt in Lighter's mind that the inspiration for this use of "Mc-" is Ray Kroc's low-end conveyor-belt fast-food empire, not a Monty Python skit. I concur with him wholeheartedly.

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    Can you check the spelling of "McAletrnatives"?
    – Laurel
    Jul 6, 2023 at 1:35
  • I agree McWholeheartedly with you -- It is possible in 1970 the Pythoners may have not even been aware of McDonalds as a business and the usage of "Mc" by them is just to suggest Scottishness -- I simply had not recalled this detail of the sketch and I suspect seeing it for the first time in the late 1970s, I would not have thought of McDonald's. I never really found the term "McMansion" particularly compelling -- what a decadent thing to criticize a large home because it looks generic -- a problem most people don't worry about -- I am happy if I can manage to pay the rent on my studio apt.
    – releseabe
    Jul 6, 2023 at 2:30
  • Your answer seems to be in contradiction to user66874's claim that 'The use of prefix Mc in a derogatory sense appears to predate McDonald’s and also Monty Pyton references'. Can you make explicit your reasons for rejecting that claim? Or, if you are not rejecting it, can you explain how your answer is to be reconciled with it?
    – jsw29
    Jul 6, 2023 at 15:50
  • @jsw29: I think that use of 'Mc-' as a prefix signifying "inferior, mass-produced, uninspired, commodified, lowest-common-denominator, etc." is different in kind from 'Mc-' as a prefix followed by a pejorative characterization of a person. The latter use of 'Mc-' has appeared for many decades longer than the former. For example, Al Capp's comic strip Li'l Abner had characters from as early as the late 1930s named "Earthquake McGoon," "Moonbeam McSwine," "Eddie McSkonk," "Romeo McHaystack," "Global McBlimp," "Slobberlips McJab," "B. Fowler McNest," "Battling McNoodnik," "Skelton McCloset,"...
    – Sven Yargs
    Jul 6, 2023 at 16:26
  • ...and "J. Colossal McGenius"—none of whom appeared to be remotely Scottish or Irish. But L'il Abner also had characters named "Count Felix Von Holenhedt" (an explicitly German flying ace), "Appassionata Von Climax," "Mimi Van Pet" (possibly a play on Mamie Van Doren), "Gloria Van Welbilt" (Gloria Vanderbilt), and "Dumpington Van Lump"—characters whose 'van' or 'von' played the same signifying role as 'Mc-'. And of course, Warner Brothers has been making cartoons featuring the amorous French skunk "Pepé Le Pew" since 1945. I think such character prefixes fall into their own category.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jul 6, 2023 at 16:26
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Wikipedia says that some uses of Mc-something (under the listing McWords) are "designed to evoke pejorative associations with the restaurant chain or fast food in general, often for qualities of cheapness, inauthenticity, or the speed and ease of manufacture". It's listing for McMansion claims that's one of them.

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"Mc", as a prefix of a surname, is used in "Gaelic" languages. It is by no means an American invention.

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    While true this doesn't answer the question where the pejorative american use came from, which is what the question is asking.
    – Cubic
    Jul 6, 2023 at 9:32

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