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clerk

Maxwell, James Clerk

(born June 13, 1831, Edinburgh, Scot.—died Nov. 5, 1879, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, Eng.) Scottish physicist. He published his first scientific paper at age 14, entered the University of Edinburgh at 16, and graduated from Cambridge University. He taught at Aberdeen University, King's College London, and Cambridge (from 1871), where he supervised the building of Cavendish Laboratory. His most revolutionary achievement was his demonstration that light is an electromagnetic wave, and he originated the concept of electromagnetic radiation. His field equations (see Maxwell's equations) paved the way for Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity. He established the nature of Saturn's rings, did important work on colour perception, and produced the kinetic theory of gases. His ideas formed the basis for quantum mechanics and ultimately for the modern theory of the structure of atoms and molecules.

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(born June 13, 1831, Edinburgh, Scot.—died Nov. 5, 1879, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, Eng.) Scottish physicist. He published his first scientific paper at age 14, entered the University of Edinburgh at 16, and graduated from Cambridge University. He taught at Aberdeen University, King's College London, and Cambridge (from 1871), where he supervised the building of Cavendish Laboratory. His most revolutionary achievement was his demonstration that light is an electromagnetic wave, and he originated the concept of electromagnetic radiation. His field equations (see Maxwell's equations) paved the way for Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity. He established the nature of Saturn's rings, did important work on colour perception, and produced the kinetic theory of gases. His ideas formed the basis for quantum mechanics and ultimately for the modern theory of the structure of atoms and molecules.

Learn more about Maxwell, James Clerk with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Clerk, the vocational title, commonly refers to a white-collar worker who conducts general office or, in some instances, sales tasks. The responsibilities of clerical workers commonly include record keeping, filing, staffing service counters and other administrative tasks. In American English, this includes shop staff, but in British English, such people are known as shop assistants and are not considered to be clerks. Also, the pronunciation is different: /klɑː(ɹ)k/ ('clark'/'clahk') in most British English dialects, but /klɝk/ ('clurk') in American English.

History

The word clerk, derived from the Latin clericus meaning 'cleric', i.e. clergyman (Latin was the foremost language used at most early medieval courts, writing mainly entrusted to clergy as most laymen couldn't read), can denote someone who works in an office and whose duties include record-keeping or correspondence. The word entered English from Scots Gaelic clèireach also derived from Latin clericus, which in turn derived from Greek κληρικός (klerikos) "of the clergy.

In a medieval context, the word meant "Scholar" and still related to the word "cleric". Even today, the term Clerk regular designates a type of regular clerics. The cognate terms in some languages, e.g. Klerk in Dutch, became restricted to a specific, fairly low rank in the administrative hierarchy.

United States

Clerical workers are perhaps the largest occupational group in the United States. In 2004 there were 3.1 million general office clerks, 1.5 million office administrative supervisors and 4.1 million secretaries. Clerical occupations often do not require a college degree, though some college education or 1 to 2 years in vocational programs are common qualifications. Familiarity with office equipment and certain software programs is also often required. Employers may provide clerical training. The median salary for clerks is $23,000, while the national median income for workers age 25 or older is $33,000. Median salaries ranged from $22,770 for general office clerks to $34,970 for secretaries and $41,030 for administrative supervisors. Clerical workers are considered working class by American sociologists such as William Thompson, Joseph Hickey or James Henslin as they perform highly routinized tasks with relatively little autonomy. Sociologist Dennis Gilbert, argues that the white and blue collar divide has shifted to a divide between professionals, including some semi-professionals, and routinized white collar workers. White collar office supervisors may be considered lower middle class with some secretaries being located in that part of the socio-economic strata where the working and middle classes overlap.

Traditionally clerical positions have been held almost exclusively by women. Even today, the vast majority of clerical workers in the US continue to be female. As with other pre-dominantly female positions, clerical occupations were and, to some extent, continue to be assigned relatively low prestige on a sexist basis. The term pink collar worker is often used to describe predominantly female white collar positions.

Functions and titles

Various functions or offices, generally of such 'clerical' nature, include the word and an indication of the task and/or employer, that is lower in position. For example:

However in large offices and organizations which require an administrative hierarchy, some titles simply indicate the relative rank of certain clerical positions, e.g. Head Clerk, Junior Clerk, Clerk, Senior Clerk, Principal Clerk, Senior Principal Clerk, Chief Clerk, Senior Chief Clerk, Executive Clerk, Senior Executive Clerk, Principal Executive Clerk.

Alternatively (in American English) a clerk is a person who sells items in a store or performs services at a desk, e.g.

  • sales clerk (as in grocery sales)
  • deli clerk
  • hotel front desk clerk
  • service desk clerk
  • cash register clerk

The surnames Clark, Clarke, Clerk, Clerke are derived from this occupation.

See also

References

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