Adventures in Etymology – Secret

Today we’re exploring the origins of the word secret.


A secret [ˈsiːkɹɪt / ˈsiːkɹət] is:

  • A piece of knowledge that is hidden and intended to be kept hidden.
  • The key or principle by which something is made clear; the knack.
  • Something not understood or known.

It comes from the Middle English secrette (secret), from the Old French secret (secret), from the Latin sēcrētus (put apart, separated, severed), from sēcernō (to separate, set aside), from sē- (aside, by itself) and cernō (to see, discern), from the PIE *krey (to sift, separate, divide) [source].

English words from the same PIE root include: certain, concern, crime, crisis, critic, discreet and hypocrisy [source].

Words in other languages from the same PIE root include: crynu [ˈkrənɨ/ˈkrəni] (to tremble, shiver, shudder) in Welsh, κρίνω [ˈkɾ] (to judge, assess, decide) in Greek, cernere [ˈt͡ʃɛ] to separate, distinguish, choose) in Italian, and kraj [kraj] (country, land, border) in Polish [source].

In Old English a secret was a dēagol [ˈdæ͜ɑː.ɣol], which also meant hidden, obscure or (poetically) dark, which became diȝel in Middle English. It comes from the Proto-West Germanic *daugul (hidden, secret) [source].

Here’s a video I made of this information:

Video made with Doodly [afflilate link].

I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog, and I explore etymological connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur.

You can also listen to this podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Stitcher, TuneIn, Podchaser, PlayerFM or podtail.

If you would like to support this podcast, you can make a donation via PayPal or Patreon, or contribute to Omniglot in other ways.

The Fastest Way to Learn Japanese Guaranteed with

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *