or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, January 27, 2012


Back in 2002 I was living in Halifax, which had and still has a stand-alone cinema, the Oxford, one of a dying breed, although it manages to chug along somehow. It wasn't quite a repertory cinema, but they showed lots of small, sometimes obscure movies, the kind that will stay open for a week or maybe two in an average-sized city. (It's where I saw "Requiem for a Dream" and "Himalaya". On the other hand, "Titanic" played there for something like three months, which I guess pulled in enough profit to keep the theatre running for another year or two.)

This poster showed up in the Coming Attractions outside the building, and how could you not want to see that? So I did. In the opening sequence of "Secretary", which I watched last night on Netflix, a twentyish woman, clearly the secretary of the title, walks into an office, staples some papers together, takes another sheet of paper from a typewriter, gets a cup of coffee, walks into her boss' office, and, since her hands are full, kicks the door shut. She's conservatively dressed in a high-necked white blouse and a knee-length black skirt, but the scene is completely sexual in the most arresting way, and as soon as you see it you know you are in the hands of someone who has a masterful control of tone.

The studio tried a number of ways to advertise the movie, and I think this is the DVD cover, which perhaps unnecessarily highlights the word "secret", though it naturally enough got me to thinking: is the word "secretary" related to "secret"?

My guess was that although "secret" must be related to "secrete" somehow, "secretary" (obviously Latin or French, because of that "-ary" suffix which comes from either Latin "-arium" or its descendant, French "-aire") might come from somewhere else, because I couldn't think of any way that the words might be related.

And I was wrong. "Secretus" is the Latin adjective for "set apart", so a secret is something that is hidden: "secretion", from which "secrete" is a back-formation, is something set apart from the main body. (The other verb "secrete", "to hide a thing", is derived directly from "secret".)

You wouldn't think a secretary is someone who hides things, but in fact an original meaning of the word was a synonym of the noun "confidant", someone who can be trusted to keep a secret. The modern sense of someone who takes dictation and keeps records is almost as old: they date from the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, respectively.


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