Claim:   Expense account reveals affair between executive and his stenographer.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, June 1995]

Expense Account for June 1995

1 June Ad for female stenographer $5.00
2 June Violets for new stenographer $7.50
6 June Week’s salary for stenographer $225.00
9 June Roses for stenographer $25.00
10 June Candy for wife $4.50
12 June Lunch for stenographer $35.00
13 June Week’s salary for stenographer $300.00
16 June Movie tickets for self and wife $6.00
18 June Theater tickets for self and stenographer $75.00
19 June Ice cream soda for wife $1.50
20 June Virginia’s salary $375.00
23 June Champagne and dinner for “Ginny” $160.00
25 June Doctor for stupid stenographer $1,500.00
25 June Fur coat for wife $6,800.00
27 June Ad for male stenographer $6.50


Origins:   Most urban legends (or humor pieces that circulate as such) are told in straightforward narrative form; however, sometimes such items take other forms, such as the “Writing Wrongs” piece (proffered as a pair of English students’ tandem writing assignment) or Hotel Soap (presented as an exchange of notes between a traveler and various hotel personnel). The “Expense Account” item

reproduced above takes this concept a step further, employing a non-narrative format to offer a tale which the reader must interpret through inference.

The premise here is that a listing of an executive’s expenses for one particular month reveal an adulterous affair between him and his assistant (and its aftermath): He hires a female stenographer, pays her an increasingly large salary, and spends increasingly large amounts of money wining and dining her, all the while penuriously treating his wife to cheap gifts and entertainment. On the same day the affair is revealed by an unexpected pregnancy (hence the “Doctor for stupid stenographer” expense), the executive springs for an expensive mink coat for his wife and shortly thereafter runs an ad seeking a male stenographer.

The use of the word “stenographer” and the mention of a (now largely socially unacceptable) mink coat as a gift for the wife help date this piece as something that goes back several decades. Indeed, a version virtually identical to this 1995 example (save for use of smaller monetary amounts in the expense report) appears in Dundes and Pagter’s 1975 collection of copylore (i.e., items circulated through use of photocopiers), Work Hard and You Shall Be Rewarded. As the authors note of it, “Once again, there is a moral twist to the item: Sin leads to trouble, and the sacredness of marriage and the home is reaffirmed.”

Last updated:   6 May 2011


    Dundes, Alan and Carl R. Pagter.   Work Hard and You Shall Be Rewarded.

    Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1975.   ISBN 0-8143-2432-0   (pp. 99-100).