1. A person who works in an office performing such tasks as keeping records, attending to correspondence, or filing.
a. A person who keeps the records and performs the regular business of a court, legislative body, or municipal district.
b. Law A law clerk, as for a judge.
3. A person who works at a sales counter or service desk, as at a store or hotel.
4. A cleric.
5. Archaic A scholar.
intr.v. clerked, clerk·ing, clerks
To work or serve as a clerk: clerked in a store; clerks for a judge.
[Middle English, clergyman, secretary, from Old English clerc and Old French clerc, clergyman, both from Late Latin clēricus, from Greek klērikos, belonging to the clergy, from klēros, inheritance, lot.]
Word History: The pronunciation of the word clerk in Middle English and early modern English was something like (klĕrk), with the (ĕ) vowel found in the standard American pronunciation of words like bed, cleft, deck, and men, but used before (r). This pronunciation of er before a consonant as (ĕr), inherited from Middle English, can still be heard in the traditional speech of some parts of Scotland and Ireland today. But the sound combination (ĕr) is no longer found in the standard American pronunciation of words like clerk. During the history of the dialects of Britain that are ancestral to American dialects, probably around the end of the 16th century, Middle English (ĕr) usually became (ûr), as in the American pronunciation of jerk, pert, and clerk itself. In the case of clerk, however, an alternative pronunciation (klärk)—or perhaps more like (klărk), with the vowel (ă) of cat—arose in the south of England, apparently in the 15th century. It was spelled both clark and clerk. Because the word clerk was pronounced with (är) rather than (ĕr) in the south of England, the vowels in the word did not become (ûr). Later, when people began to "drop their r's" in the dialects of southern England during the 18th century, clerk came to be pronounced (kläk), with a long vowel (ä), as it is still pronounced in the Received Pronunciation of clerk in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the American colonies and early United States were being populated by immigrants speaking dialects in which the historical change of (klĕrk) to (klärk) had not occurred, and the standard modern American pronunciation of the word became (klûrk). The other pronunciation (klärk) is used in the United States only in the proper name Clark. Similar changes of (ĕ) to (ä) before (r), occurring at various points in the history of Middle and Early Modern English, have given rise to parson (beside person), varsity (beside university), and even varmint (beside vermin).
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.