Take a letter, Miss Pringle. Actually, forget that, I’ll do it myself.
Ah, secretaries. Once the all-powerful guardians of both outbound correspondence and the discerning executive’s diary, the personal secretary has been rightly replaced by admin support functionaries supporting comparatively enormous numbers of people, since today’s modern business person is quite capable of taking their own letters and choosing a convenient gap in two online calendars in which to place a meeting.
Tell someone these days that you “have a secretary” and they will assume that you are making overblown claims about your corporate importance, or are deficient in the basics of modern office etiquette, as well as being unable to use tools which are second nature to the rest of us. Perhaps all three. At the very least, they will conclude that your employer has missed out on the democratising march of progress which has done so much to even out demeaning workplace inequality. The same march has led to the common practice of job title inflation, a process that ensures that everyone’s a director, even when they’re blatantly not.
Suggesting, in your voicemail greeting, that callers should contact your secretary is to confess to a weird seventies corporate existence, on from which you haven’t moved since Are You Being Served? was all over the telly. Even if your nominated secretary has the vaguest clue who you are or how they may be able to assist a random caller – other than by ringing you themselves using exactly the same mobile number on which your caller has just discovered your unavailability – it’s probably true to say that the only outcome will be a message taken and a delayed response. Your contact may as well leave you a voicemail.
But clearly, it’s not traditional secretaries themselves that aren’t a thing. A dying breed they may be, their usefulness curtailed by technology and their all-seeing, all knowing, somewhat subservient, housewifely relationship with the big boss character redefined within a wider team and across a highly useful set of functions, but the concept of secretary is obviously a ‘thing’, albeit an increasingly archaic one.
Rather, it’s people’s pronunciation of the word secretary that isn’t a thing. The former Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, routinely refers to his time as the “Home Seckerterry”, and while getting syllable two wrong is unusual, almost everyone has started pronouncing the word as if it has four syllables rather than three: sec-re-terry rather than sec-re-tree. Well, not quite tree, exactly, but nearly tree.
If you can’t even pronounce ‘secretary’, it probably helps explain why, like almost everyone else, you don’t actually have one. Anyone worthy of a real secretary would have a PA. The personal assistant is a bit like a secretary used to be, but without the compulsory short skirt and tea-making skills.
To make people hate you that bit more you can refer to them as an ‘executive assistant’. Because you can also elevate that job title as well as your own.
And such is the positive, inclusive and very welcome influence of political correctness in the workplace, the PA doesn’t even have to be a chick.