Down to Business: Girl Friday
The term “girl Friday” was a variation on “man Friday,” which in turn came from the pages of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (full title: The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner. Whew.). In that story, “Friday” is a faithful servant and all-around-useful kind of guy–Crusoe’s right-hand man–so named because Crusoe met him on a Friday. So the term “girl Friday” came to be used to describe a female employee who performed myriad office tasks with brisk and cheerful efficiency (and maybe some non-office tasks as well. Picking up dry cleaning, anyone? Buying a birthday gift for the boss’s wife?).
In 1940, a screwball comedy called “His Girl Friday,” starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, was a big hit at the box office.
“The surest way to prove that you are fitted for a better job,” Eleanor Boykin advised would-be girl Fridays that same year, “is to do the one you have exceptionally well. Those who feel superior to their work and so perform it half-heartedly cheat themselves as well as their employer. Can they expect to inspire confidence? It is good sportsmanship to give full measure in your work. It is a sign of intelligence, ambition, and good breeding to give better than full measure.
“Get acquainted with as many phases as possible of the business you are in. Try to obtain books which will give you a broader knowledge of business and of your particular field. There may be evening courses available to you; if so, you will do well to take advantage of them.
“Be on time for your work. Don’t try to earn the reputation of being the first out of the door at closing time. Take a pride in never missing a day from your work, if you can possibly help it. If you are asked to stay overtime, be cheerful about it, even though you are thinking, “Just my luck–today of all days!” Don’t chew gum or manicure your nails in the office. Never use office stamps for your own letters. Keep your desk tidy. Move about quietly, without stumbling over chairs, slamming doors, or ramming in desk or file drawers. Poise is one of the most prized of good business qualities.
“Finally, get some fun out of your job. This will happen if you whip up some enthusiasm for your work, find something to like in the people you work with, and earn a “Well done!” from your chief. Then, wish cash proof in your pocket that you are useful, you will have the “everything’s-going-my-way” feeling.”
The term “Girl Friday” fell out of favor as feminists objected to calling grown women “girls.” Apparently “woman Friday” just didn’t have the same ring.