I'm trying to find a word (or idiom or phrase) that describes something which is perceived as belonging to one person or group of people only. To contextualise this question I'll provide the paragraph in which I need to insert this word:

But while the community of administrative assistants the world over can thank the cast and creators behind The Devil Wears Prada for flagging their struggle to the public, they should also be disgruntling at the fact that the feature film reinforces the deterring notion that personal assistants are...[missing word or idiom]... to/of/for high-level executives.

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    +1 I would phrase it: "the notion that personal assistants work exclusively for high-level executives", or "... are exclusively for high-level executives". [You need disgruntled, not disgruntling, by the way ...] – Araucaria Jan 11 '17 at 12:52
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    What about "exclusive"?! – Alexander Kosubek Jan 11 '17 at 13:05
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    thank you @Araucaria, very useful and also thank you for pointing out that it should be disgruntled. – MoscowMuleMonster Jan 11 '17 at 13:42
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    What's a "deterring notion"? Is the issue that this notion deters people from becoming AAs, or that it deters lower-level execs from trying to hire them? (Also, isn't she a personal assistant or executive assistant in TDWP?) – MissMonicaE Jan 11 '17 at 16:43
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    I've also never seen "disgruntling" as an active verb before. – Lee Daniel Crocker Jan 11 '17 at 17:19

10 Answers 10

The word reserved (meaning set aside for specific people in this context) works here.

"... the deterring notion that personal assistants are reserved for high-level executives."


reserved adjective

2. kept by special arrangement for some person: a reserved seat.

Alternatively 'prerogative' may be what you are looking for

A right or privilege exclusive to a particular individual or class:
‘in some countries, higher education is predominantly the prerogative of the rich’

Per your example

the feature film reinforces the deterring notion that personal assistants are the prerogative of high-level executives.

This can also be intensified by the use of 'sole'

the feature film reinforces the deterring notion that personal assistants are the sole prerogative of high-level executives.

  • This is a particularly nice suggestion and one I didn't think of. – Jordan Gray Jan 12 '17 at 1:18
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    One note. Although sole prerogative is still the dominant form overall, consider "solely the prerogative" here. With "sole prerogative", it sounds like assistants are the only executive prerogative, rather than that all assistants work for execs. – Phil Sweet Jan 12 '17 at 1:28

Peculiar to
perhaps not the most common usage of 'peculiar' but i think it would work in the example.

2.1 peculiar to Belonging exclusively to:

  • ‘some languages are peculiar to one region’

  • ‘ I'm not sure if all people do this, or whether it's something
    peculiar to my family.’

In your example:

the feature film reinforces the deterring notion that personal assistants are peculiar to high-level executives."

Though I might rephrase to something like

the feature film reinforces the deterring notion that having personal assistants is peculiar to high-level executives."

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    Why the downvote? The question asked for ' a word (or idiom or phrase) that describes something which is perceived as belonging to one person or group of people only'. Which 'peculiar to' fits. if there is some other aspect to my answer that is incorrect in some way, it will be easier for me to correct if you let me know what it is. Peace. – Spagirl Jan 11 '17 at 13:16
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    I'm not the downvoter but perhaps whoever did downvvote was either unaware of the exact (and correct) use you pointed out, or was on a drive-by downvote which, sadly, does happen. I find your answer to be factually and semantically correct. +1 from me. – Spratty Jan 11 '17 at 13:22
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    @Spagirl Thank you, I found your answer very helpful and I don't see why someone would downvote it. Also, the way you rephrased it flows a lot smoother so again, thank you for that. – MoscowMuleMonster Jan 11 '17 at 13:44
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    You might also consider "proprietary". – Lee Daniel Crocker Jan 11 '17 at 17:20
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    It's the first thing that came to mind, but may not be the best. I think peculiar to is mostly not used this way with humans - neither "(human) is peculiar to ..." nor "... is peculiar to (human)" is very common. (But it can be used to great effect if the people are in fact peculiar, as is done in the second example.) – Phil Sweet Jan 12 '17 at 0:38

Exclusive (to) works particularly well here:

exclusive adjective

(postpositive) foll by to. limited (to); found only (in):

this model is exclusive to Harrods

As well as meaning something belongs to a particular place, group or individual, it connotes a degree of privilege and status often associated with the group under discussion.

Limited (to) and reserved (for) have similar connotations.

More generally, idiosyncratic (to) and peculiar (to) mean exactly what you intend:

idiosyncratic adjective

[…] something peculiar to an individual

peculiar adjective

  1. belonging characteristically (usually followed by to):

    an expression peculiar to Canadians.

  2. belonging exclusively to some person, group, or thing:

    the peculiar properties of a drug.

sole purview

As in "personal assistants are the sole purview of high-level executives".

It's a common and somewhat formal/legal idiom that feels best for this situation.

Here's an example usage -- "Will print books be the sole purview of the wealthy?"


2 : the range or limit of authority, competence, responsibility, concern, or intention

"Purview." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 11 Jan. 2017.

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    One note. Although sole purview is still the dominant form overall, consider "solely the purview" here. With "sole purview", it sounds like assistants are the only thing within an executive's perview, rather than that all assistants work for execs. – Phil Sweet Jan 12 '17 at 1:02
  • Another excellent and unexpected suggestion. – Jordan Gray Jan 12 '17 at 1:22
  • can you explain how this pertains? In what way are PAs the range or limit of any of those things? Perhaps it works if you make it something like 'employment of personal assistants is solely within the purview of...'? – Spagirl Jan 12 '17 at 1:37
  • Yes, I think adding something like "employment of" clarifies the statement, but the action is understood as it is with other suggested words. – George Phillips Jan 12 '17 at 1:57
  • Sorry, i didn't make myself clear. I understand 'purview' to be the scope or range of authority: in what way do PAs, or their employment constitute 'range/scope' rather than falling within it? – Spagirl Jan 12 '17 at 9:08


  1. native and/or restricted to a particular area or field
  2. characteristic of or prevalent in a particular field, area, or environment

As in personal assistance, belong to, and are inherently restricted to Executives. This also conveys that this is the natural place for PA's, and the area/reason to which originally gave rise to the role.

A lot of possibilities have been mentioned, but the one I don't see so far is:

Dedicated (adjective)—Exclusively allocated to or intended for a particular purpose

from Oxford Dictionaries

Some possible phrases:

Geared towards

Meant for

Customized to


"... personal assistants are puppets to high-level executives."

Usage of puppets meaning they can control them in any way they please, almost with the use of strings much like a puppeteer.

puppets ajective

2. a person, group, or country under the control of another.

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    It works, but ouch! :) – Jordan Gray Jan 12 '17 at 1:21

A little different, but how about fodder?


fodder: a person or thing regarded only as material for a specific use

Your example:

"... the feature film reinforces the deterring notion that personal assistants are the fodder of high-level executives.

Depending on your intention, you may wish to consider the word shibboleth.

noun: shibboleth; plural noun: shibboleths

A custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important.

You could use this word in your example (though it may be stretching the use a bit) to imply that having an assistant is an implicit show of power or position.

  • Not the (unhelpfully quiet) downvoter, and this is absolutely a valid observation, but I think this would be an odd way to turn that phrase. – Jordan Gray Jan 12 '17 at 1:20
  • I have never seen shibboleth used in this way and it would appear very strange. The point of the word shibboleth was to identify a certain group of people (they pronounced it differently) and kill them. In the Yugoslavian conflicts assassins waited outside bakeries to hear how people asked for bread for the same reason. – RedSonja Jan 12 '17 at 9:05

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