1. someone in an office who works for someone else and who does jobs such as arranging meetings, making phone calls, and preparing letters
2. the member of a committee who writes letters and keeps records of meetings
3. the politician in charge of a particular government department
View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.
Origin and usage
The noun secretary originally meant ‘a person entrusted with secrets’ and came from the medieval Latin ‘secretarius’ which derives from ‘secretum’ meaning ‘secret’. It was first used in English in the 14th century.
The word secretary was originally used to refer to a man who dealt with the confidential business of a powerful man, hence the connection with ‘secrets’. The role developed and changed over the centuries, although the confidential aspect of the work continued. With the arrival of the typewriter and the modern office the job of secretary became a predominantly female one. The many compound nouns that include secretary show the wide range of responsibilities and roles that can be covered by the term. The term private secretary, for example, denotes someone who works exclusively for an important person in business or government: in the UK parliament the position of Parliamentary Private Secretary or PPS is held by an MP who helps a minister, and is probably on the path to ministerial office themselves. A social secretary, meanwhile, is someone whose job is to organize social activities for an important person or an organization, while a company secretary deals with a company’s financial and legal matters. The job of a press secretary, finally, is to give journalists official information about the organization that employs them.
“Without the Project I was nothing but a secretary on a road to nowhere, drifting toward frosted hair and menthol addiction.”
(Julie Powell, Julie and Julia)
“To the best of my knowledge, I’m the first mom to hold the job of the White House Press Secretary.”
(Sarah Huckabee Sanders)
assistant, factotum, PA
Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.
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