An old-fashioned clerical worker, especially in the fields of bookkeeping and correspondence.
Prior to the invention of office machines, all number crunching, preparation of documents and correspondence and copying of previously made documents had to be done by hand. Thus a business enterprise of any size had to have a number of workers specifically to create and deal with all the paperwork. They had a number of names and titles, but the one we're using here is "clerk." The term originally comes from the Catholic Church's clergy (singular: cleric), the major source and employer of literate people in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. Note that in British English, it is pronounced "clark."
The clerk is often a supporting character in fiction, making the business run smoothly while the owner or manager has more interesting adventures. If a clerk is the main character, the theme of the story will often be the tedium of the job and the wacky characters they are forced to work with. Beginning in the latter half of the 19th Century, women start being hired as lower-level clerks.
Often is used as a Meek Townsman
when one is needed in The Western
. The modern equivalent is the White Collar Worker
. For store clerks, see Shopkeeper
Not to be confused with the Kevin Smith movie, Clerks
- The title character of "Bartleby the Scrivener" and his co-workers, who are employed in drafting and copying legal documents.
- Bob Crachit of A Christmas Carol.
- In Horatio Alger's first Rags to Riches novel, Ragged Dick, the "riches" Dick rises to is an entry-level clerk position. (But it is steady work that doesn't require him to hustle out on the street.)
- Lord Vetinari employs a number of clerks, including Lupine Wonse (from Guards! Guards!, who plotted to remove Vetinari from power), Rufus Drumknott (the mild-mannered supporting character version of this trope), and the mysterious Dark Clerks.
- One of the main characters in Making Money is Malvolio Bent, the super-uptight chief clerk of the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork who chafes under the reckless showmanship of protagonist Moist von Lipwig.
- A lot of characters in Russian literature are like this, especially in Gogol and Dostoyevsky. There was an odd civil service ladder in Tzarist Russia and the ranking of lower ranked civil servants in the books is often Collegiate Assessor, which corresponded to a military rank of colonel.
- Jonathan Harker of Dracula is a clerk, though by the time the story starts he has risen high enough in the company to be trusted with dangerous foreign missions, and he's made a partner in the firm on his return.
- Mad Men is set in the final years in which clerking is considered a valid stand-alone profession. Over the course of the series, the typing pool is replaced by photocopies and word processors and the various secretaries would eventually move on to more creative jobs.