There is mad, and then there is spitting, fire-breathing, door-slamming mad. The woman on the other end of the phone was decidedly the latter.

She said she was a secretary at a major downtown office, and had just hung up with -- but not on -- a big-time client.

"He called me 'honey,' " she told me. "As in, 'Thanks very much, honey.' Bob, I'm not his honey. And the guy is such a creep I wouldn't ever want to be. I should have told him off, but I probably would have been fired. Anything I could have done?"

"Did he say 'honey' as if he wanted to take you for a wild weekend in Barbados, or as if he's an old-line sexist who calls every woman honey?"

"The second."

"Is your boss a man?"


"Well, even so, I'd talk to him about it. How can he blame you for what a client said? I'll bet he'll be sympathetic."

"Okay, I'll try it. But what do I say to the man himself? He calls all the time. It'll happen again."

"I've never been on your end of one of these, but here's what I'd try. Say: 'Sir, I really wish you wouldn't call me honey. It makes me uncomfortable. And I can't do a good job for either you or my company if I'm uncomfortable.' I predict you'll turn him into an apologetic bucket of mush."

The secretary said she'd call me and let me know how it turns out -- and I hope she does. In the meantime, gentlemen, if you recognize yourself in this yarn, how about a little remedial work on your phone manners? The hand that rocks the switchboard rules the world. It's good business, not to mention good human relations, to treat that switchboard sentry with a little more courtesy.