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.