hired a peon lately?

Here’s a paragraph from Singapore’s National University about their sociology department’s history:

“Teaching in the Department began in 1966 with just three staff members: Professor Murray Groves, an Australian social anthropologist who was appointed the first Chair of Sociology, Mrs Daisy Seah as secretary and a peon.”

Que? An indentured servant?

And why would an anthropologist need a secretary and a peon? I mean what division of labor would the peon handle?

All the pissant stuff.

I’m guessing in the USA, etc., “peon” would be equivalent to “assistant.” i.e., whatever the prof. needed, from handling correspondence to fetching books to scheduling appts. to possibly even cleaning the offices, making coffee, getting lunch, running other daily errands that a busy dept. head might not have time to handle (laundry? who knows).

No no, what you’re describing there is a graduate student. :slight_smile:

My guess is in this case it indicates somebody doing less technical tasks than that, essentially a laborer, or in this case a janitor/cleaner.

“Peon” is routinely used in India as an actual job title for someone who runs errands, a “gofer” in American slang. When you arrive at the office in the morning, the office peon greets you, takes your keys and unlocks your desk drawers. Then he goes back to his little room to make you a cup of tea or coffee (as per your own preference). When you want a file from storage, you call for the peon. When you need a train reservation (sometimes for personal as well as for business purposes), you send the peon around to the ticketing office. At lunchtime, the peon will ask everyone in the office what they want and he’ll go around to the local food stalls and restaurants and bring it all back. In the afternoon, the peon brings you another cup of tea with biscuits (i.e., cookies or crackers). You might send the peon out to fetch your dry cleaning.

My sister-in-law discovered that their office peon would also spend his spare time using the extra milk for the tea to make ghi (clarified butter) on the side and sell it. She kept her mouth shut and when she left that company, he presented her with a big jar of homemade ghi.

Well, according to the *Shorter OED[/d], In the Indian subcontinent and SE Asia, “peon” means a person of low rank, and can mean an office boy. No doubt that is the sense it was used in here.