Meanings: “Upcharge”

October 9, 2012

“Drink upcharge: $0.09,” says the receipt from the McDonald’s, where we stopped on a drive today from Philadelphia back to Maine.  I take it that means we were charged an additional nine cents because we asked that the standard soft drink that comes with a child’s Happy Meal be replaced with a chocolate milk.  Yes, chocolate milk has high fructose corn syrup, but we still think it may be healthier for our nine year old than a Coke.

But “upcharge?”  Is that even a word?  It doesn’t appear in the on-line (that is, most up-to-date) version of the Oxford English Dictionary.  “An additional charge” is how defines it, which seems straightforward.  But it doesn’t appear in most other dictionaries, and why not use “surcharge” instead?  The OED traces “surcharge” to 1601, offering this definition:  “a pecuniary charge in excess of the usual or just amount; an additional or excessive pecuniary charge.”  Perhaps McDonald’s doesn’t like the slightly pejorative connotation of “surcharge.”

What’s really strange, however, is that McDonald’s would charge $.09 more for a chocolate milk.  In addition to Robbie’s Happy Meal, we bought an additional chocolate milk for Ellen, and a small Coke for me to go with our sandwiches.  McDonald’s charged us $1.09 for the chocolate milk, and $1.19 for the small coke — that is, $0.10 more for the Coke.  So why the “upcharge” when we substituted a chocolate milk for a Coke in the Happy Meal?

Maybe I don’t fully understand what “upcharge” means.


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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