Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I have been a secretary for about twenty-three years now. People balk at my using this term these days - mostly men, interestingly enough - but all the other words insult me far more than "secretary" ever could.

The office of secretary has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. This isn't an exaggeration; five centuries ago, Queen Elizabeth I had a Master Secretary, and she was hardly the first on this count. For countless generations, "secretary" has been the name of the highest offices in government; and no matter how out-of-style the styling may seem to people who aren't listening, the President's cabinet is still made up of Secretaries. The word has no natural taint, and I tire of people's applying one to it. The offensive cartoon-image of a woman in a tight wool skirt being chased 'round the desk by her lecherous boss (... and - as an aside - to whom is that sad cliche' MOST offensive, really ... ?) never arose until a generation ago, perhaps less than five years before my own birth.

That half a century's puerile laughter has left me with the *inestimable* offense of corporate-speak instead bothers ME. Every last one of the other available options is by far more demeaning, or just plain empty, than "secretary" ...

This one has the misfortune to include a word just this side of "servant", for my tastes - "assistant" really puts the focus on subordination and judgment. A secretary in this day and age is a relationship manager, a project manager, a clerical professional, a liaison and ambassador; *most* of these things, and in most roles, set by one's own

Okay, has *anyone* - ever - actually used this phrase outside of the designated buy-your-barely-tolerated-peon-a-card day? ... Bueller? Yep. Didn't think so. The peak of empty terms, this one may well have been invented by Hallmark themselves.

Also pretty out of vogue, you do still see this at least more often than "secretary". It rings my mental bell as a bit ecclesiastical, with "cleric" holding the place it does in my mental dictionary, but it's not altogether awful. The main problem with this one is that it's generally code for - "total bottom of the ladder" stuff, not even *deserving* of the term "administrative". What could be more dismissive than that, I ask you? Give me "secretary" any day - from entry level to Executive ones, it's more functional *and* tidier.

And the bottom line in some ways ... is that "secretary" is just pleasing on the tongue. It has a sibilance and sharpness to it, an economy and weight the vowel-intensive, soft-consonanted Admin-based terms do not. These days, to use it is definitely a dare, too - I never ever employ it without someone pulling a face, occasionally a guilty one. The value judgments these reactions convey indicate far more about the reactor than they do about the inherent worth of the word. They certainly seem to make people stop and think about *me* every time, which is always interesting. I can almost see the wheels - "Huh, I'd have pegged her for a feminist, maybe" - and the sound they make grinding merely amuses me. The lingusitic torture of other people is an amusement of mine, and that along with my perverse/contrarian take on entrenched (or even new) prejudices makes for a pointless mental game from time to time.

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