The Right Coast

March 28, 2004
If it's good enough for the Secretary of Commerce ...
By Gail Heriot

I just peeked ahead to April on my calendar and saw that April 21st is designated "Administrative Professionals Day." Evidently, I am lagging behind the times again (a positon to which I've grown accustomed). A quick internet search revealed that "Administrative Professionals Day" is the new, blander, more PC term for what was originally called "National Secretaries Day" when it was proclaimed by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Charles Sawyer in 1952. At the time, there was thought to be a critical shortage of qualified secretaries; Secretary Sawyer hoped that a special day of appreciation would encourage more people to enter the occupation. The term was changed to "Administrative Professionals Day" in 2000.

I've never understood why the term "secretary" should be demeaning, but evidently some view it as such. I was told a few years ago that some secretaries here at the University of San Diego were so desperate to have their job titles changed that they were very nearly in tears over the issue. (They are now called administrative assistants.) Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I like the term "secretary" better. It derives from the Latin "secretum" (or secret) and conjures up images of the confidante. "Administrative assistant," on the other hand, is bureaucratic and lifeless.

What's interesting, of course, is that it's getting to the point where the only ones left with the title "Secretary" are cabinet level officers of the United States government--like Secretary Sawyer himself. Somehow I can't imagine them adopting the title "Administrative Professional."