What are the first six letters of the word secretary?

That might have seemed very obvious to you, the link between the words secret and secretary, but I think for most people it probably wasn’t. Mainly because the pronunciation is so different. There certainly is a link though.

I first became aware of it when learning Irish in school, and noticing the difference between the words for secret (rúnda) and secretary (rúnaí).

The logic behind the link between the words is pretty simple. The word entered the English language in the late 14th century. It was derived from the Latin secretarius (clerk, confidante), and referred to confidential officers of powerful individuals such as kings and queens. It made sense then, as obviously people of such power would have a lot of secret information for their secretaries to handle.

Overtime the term evolved to encompass people in more general administrative positions, or assistants. Not that it’s generally not appropriate for these positions, as most secretaries will still deal with some confidential information.

I’ve always found it interesting that the word is also used in American politics to refer to cabinet members, e.g. Secretary of Defense. It still makes sense, as those positions aren’t too different to those which the term originally referred to: confidential officers of leaders.

I prefer minister though, which, along with its equivalents in other languages, is more commonly used in Europe. It can be traced back to the Latin minister, which meant servant, inferior, or priest’s assistant. I think it’s more useful for reminding politicians that they’re servants to the people who elect them.

4 thoughts on “Secretary

  1. There are also those desks with lockable drawers called ‘secretaries’ – for obvious reasons, they are where you store your secret/valuable papers.
    But it sounds odd in novels when there is a secretary standing in the corner all the time! Sounds like Dolly Parton in 9-5 is lurking at the edge of the Victorian study!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hacker: Who else is in this department?
    Sir Humphrey: Well briefly, sir, I am the Permanent Under Secretary of State, known as the Permanent Secretary. Woolley here is your Principal Private Secretary. I too have a Principal Private Secretary and he is the Principal Private Secretary to the Permanent Secretary. Directly responsible to me are ten Deputy Secretaries, 87 Under Secretaries and 219 Assistant Secretaries. Directly responsible to the Principal Private Secretaries are plain Private Secretaries, and the Prime Minister will be appointing two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries and you will be appointing your own Parliamentary Private Secretary.
    Hacker: Can they all type?
    Sir Humphrey: None of us can type. Mrs Mackay types: she’s the secretary.
    Minister: Pity, we could have opened an agency.
    Sir Humphrey: Very droll, Minister.
    Hacker: I suppose they all say that, do they?
    – Yes Minister (Antony Jay and Jonathon Lynn)

    And what are the first eight letters of treasurer? *You* can be in charge of the secrets, and *I*’ll be in charge of the treasure. (Of course there’s the secretary to the treasury, who gets the best of both worlds.)

    Liked by 1 person

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