Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What's in a Name?

Today, I received an email urging me to buy cosmetic products for my Administrative Professional on April 22nd. I think they used to be called Administrative Assistants and before that, in the antediluvian past, Secretaries. It was considered innovational when Secretary's Day was originated in 1952, for now those thankless clerical workers would be acknowledged. Eventually, the word "Secretary" became shameful and lacking in importance, so now we have Administrative Professional's Day.

Everybody is a professional these days. I wonder if ditch diggers are called Entrenchment Professionals, and what about chain gangs? Would they be called Linked Incarceration Professionals? (L.I.P's.) Immersion, Agitation and China Purification Professionals = dishwashers. Garbage collectors, called "garbage men" in my youth, are probably classified as Environmental Waste Accumulation & Distribution Professionals.

I have issues with this pretentious renaming of livelihoods: Everyone deserves respect regardless of the kind of work he/she performs. Why must we dress it up to sound more esteemed than it is? Garbage collection, for example, is a very important job. If no one performed this service, our entire society would very quickly perish of nasty plagues.

There is also the matter of semantics. When I was a child, a "professional" referred to a doctor, lawyer or dentist. Later, the meaning expanded to include those who were paid for doing something which other people did for recreation, like athletics. Or sex. (Which can, of course, be combined endlessly, but that is another post entirely.)

There is also the assumption that if secretaries are not given a more important-sounding title, their self-worth will suffer. Or perhaps it's a cynical ploy to ensure a steady stream of people willing to perform secretarial duties for their bosses. And here we open another can of worms - the corporate hierarchy. I have no problem with the fact that there are bosses - those with the most training, ability and experience should absolutely be running things, and anarchy in the workplace is to be avoided. I just don't like the word "boss." It has ugly connotations. I especially dislike the term "superior" to describe a person who ranks higher than another because I am overly steeped in the quaint notion that all are created equal, even though some of us earn far more than others.

All these ruminations aside, since I do not actually employ an Administrative Professional, I will not have to take him or her to lunch on the 22nd, nor bestow said Administrative Professional with burnt offerings. But I certainly hope that like all people, they are appreciated and rewarded every day for their work, not just once a year.


Cecilieaux said...

One of my recurrent responses to problems with the word "secretary" (which arise when a woman on a board gets elected to or declines that office), is that we tend to forget what the title was originally about, namely keeping the "secret" (or private) papers of an office, and institution, a king or queen, etc. That's why our cabinet members are secretaries.

Great picture, by the way.

nick said...

They're still called administrative assistants or officers over here. I think partly because "secretary" has taken on such negative meanings, also because secretary always suggests a woman. But as you say, whatever the name, they have a necessary job to do and should be appreciated for it.

Molly said...

The best way to show appreciation to these people, whatever title you want to give them, would be to take some of the millions from the CEOs and redistribute it to those in the trenches, doing the dull everyday tasks that keep the company afloat.....

Bob said...

I do believe that garbage workers are called sanitation engineers.

a professional is supposedly someone who has to obtained specialized schooling (at the college level) resulting in a specific degree. (usually a bachelors or better.)

but you're right - we are so hypersensitive to political correctness and perceived slights that we have made every job special instead of letting people be proud of the job they do. It merely hides the disdain with which people view honest labor. (just look at elementary school honors day. every child in the school gets multiple awards. all this really accomplishes is to diminish the truly exceptional students and reward averageness)

You can be sure that a society looks down on garbage collectors if it calls them sanitation engineers.

RED MOJO said...

Well as a prematurely retired domicile elegance and value elevation designer and engineering specialist, I think you're right! These puffed up titles are a load of olfactorily offensive discarded animal digestive processes.

the walking man said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the walking man said...

Shit...my wife has been a clerical employee for a 30 years doing all the work her "superiors" didn't or wouldn't want to do, never refusing any job and accomplishing it in a timely, thorough manner...they can call her by whatever title they want but it all amounts to the same thing as I witness their treatment of her...to them she is named shit.

The CEO said...

We're all the same. We should be like the Marines, all grunts. True status is when you're known by one name, like Beethoven or Shakespeare.

Jocelyn said...

I like to think the ultimate point here, then, is that you should go out and just buy yourself some lovely lipstick on the 22nd.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

But this scent smells suspiciously like something that Red Mojo mentioned.

And I like CEO's one name theory... Madonna, Cher, Snoopy. CEO is on to something there. We should do a 'what's your one name' post.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Mariposa said...

I was once called as somebody who has authority issues because I don't use the word boss! Lately, I get to utter the word at work...most of the time as an echo.

I'm with you on providing fancy names, that's not what respect is all about.

And here, (since you mention SEX...)they're called professional sex workers...whaaaaa!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


SECRETaries often get to keep more than their share of secrets. Sometimes, they even ARE the secrets they keep. "Administrative Professional" really doesn't begin to convey the scope of the job and is probably deliberately vague so that job descriptions and other boundaries can be subverted.


The word "secretary" suggests female because men who work in such a capacity have always had more impressive titles, as well as better pay, to say nothing of more respect.


What a great idea! It's really too bad you were not born here because I would vote for you after President Obama has served his eight years. I really love the way your mind works.


I share your thoughts on how leveling the playing field to make everyone a winner robs the truly outstanding (or harder working) ones. It is deplorable that mediocrity is so revered and natural superiority so feared that we need to equalize people artificially instead of appreciating each individual for his/her specific abilities.

If a rose by any other name is still a rose, so then is a garbage collector. The fact that we need to elevate someone's title really means that we look down on that person and his livelihood but care deeply about our own political correctness.


No shit.


Exactly. Too often, the more exalted the title, the more scutwork is involved. And worse, the folks who do most of the work are considered "the little people." If all the clerical workers revolted, the foundation would crumble in a day.


Madonna. Cher. Pocahontas.


Well, hell, i's a rough job, but somebody's got to get that new lipstick. Only I want it NOW. Do I have to wait a week?


Welcome back from your yummy travels.

It's true. What's good enough for Snoopy is good enough for me, by gosh.


There is something deeply ingrained in me that refuses to acknowledge the word "boss." As a child, I even felt bad for Dagwood in the comics who constantly called Mr. Dithers "Boss."

As for the professional sex workers, I think it's not supposed to feel like work if you're an amateur, so the term is a bit redundant.

Maria said...

Ah...thank you. I had forgotten that the 22nd is secretary/administrative assistant day. I have a secretary who is incredibly good at her job but incredibly bad at getting along with others.

But, I will do the obligatory gift thing and make a fuss over her. You know, all of the administrative assistants have college degrees in my office, so I am thinking that the whole job may have changed. When I was a kid, most secretaries were either unmarried young women or older married women or widows.

But, then...I am elderly....

That might be an interesting question for a blog post. I mean, there must be lots of administrative assistants out there...I'm curious if they have college degrees, etc.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Isn't getting along with others part of her job?

It seems that a college degree is necessary for practically everything these days with so much competition for few jobs. But then, what do I know? If you are elderly, I am ancient.

The Fool said...

I think it's all a ploy of the University system. If they can get everyone to join in the cult of professionalism (it all starts by sounding important), then they can mandate a degree for it, and pretty soon, nobody can do it without at least four years of college. Within ten years I am certain it will take $20,000 and a stretch at the University in order to become a particulated bovine entrepreneur (fast food worker).

meggie said...

The last time I worked in the offices of a large Internationally owned corporation, the MD's (Managing Director)erstwhile Secretary, was known as his PA. (No, not Penis Adjuster, but Pernonal Assistant.)
She held the fort & controlled the Australian branch of the company when MD, (who was really Pompous Bastard,) was out of the country.. which he frequently was... & she became my closest friend. How we laughed behind their backs!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

No fool,

"Particulated bovine entrepreneur.." lovely. And so much more illustrious-sounding than "chopped cow passer." That should add at least another 4 years of expensive schooling.


In the States, PA stands for Physician's Assistant. I'm not sure who adjusts the penises, where relevant.

Anonymous said...

I was chatised recently for using the word secretary. It baffled me - I don't even understand how it is an insulting word.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It's so hard to stay up on the latest in political correctness as the words change as soon as we get used to them.

DavidShag said...

The re-naming of any group or profession to something more euphemistic implies there is shame in what they are. I loathe the silly appellations given to janitors, secretaries, blacks and other ethnic groups, those with various mental and physical issues. I see that even we programmers have become developers or any of a handful of other names (although I agree that this is, indeed, a disgusting profession under any name). I think it is much more effective to just call oneself what one has been historically called and land a stiff one on the beezer of anyone who implies it is a lesser group of which to be a member. This engenders silence on the part of critics rather effectively. Renaming of such things as Unemployment or Employment departments (both confusingly called 'Human Resources') is simply lying and sloppy thinking. Utilizing something rather than using it is different only in that those who speak of doing the former are windbags.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


A euphemism is always a softened word, which implies that the real word is not pleasing enough.

The employment office titles are indeed confusing, but then, most corporate titles are less than straightforward. Perhaps the idea is to grant in name what is not given in monetary compensation or actual power. In any event, windbags abound in the workplace and everywhere else. A windbag by any other name is still a windbag.

Thank you for your visit. I tried to follow your link but was unable to access your blog.

On a limb with Claudia said...

I wonder. If we treated people with respect and saw them as important parts of our organization, maybe we wouldn't have to keep changing the names? Just a thought.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I think it would be a good place to start.

Glamourpuss said...

Does that make me a Garment Removal Professional? I like that.

So, so lovely to meet you last week, dearie. I wish we'd had more time.


heartinsanfrancisco said...


How about Apparel Removal Specialist? It has a lovely acronym.

I adored meeting you, too. You are true British royalty in every way that counts.

Glamourpuss said...

That's very funny!


heartinsanfrancisco said...


??? ARS was meant to be funny, the rest of it quite serious. Royalty w/o the stuffiness, of course. You are elegant in a most unique way, so just deal with it, ok?

velvet said...

Ooh, you hit on one of my pet peeves! When did all this fluffy title creation start, anyway?? It's right up there with corporate lingo in the "rubs me the wrong way" file. *shudder*

So, as a stay-at-home, suburban housewife and mom, I don't much fancy the title "domestic engineer". I think that I need a new, fancy, over-inflated title to boost my self-esteem. ;-)

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Your self-esteem should already be boosted by not having to go to a job you hate every day. And "Velvet" sounds like a great job title to me.