General English


  • noun a senior diplomat below the rank of ambassador
  • abbreviationMin.
    (written as Minister)

Origin & History of “minister”

Etymologically, a minister is a person of ‘lower’ status, a ‘servant’. The word goes back via Old French ministre to Latin minister ‘servant, attendant’, which was derived from minus ‘less’. It retained this meaning when it arrived in English, and indeed it still survives in the verb minister. But already by the middle Ages a specialized application to a ‘church functionary’ had developed, and in the 16th century this hardened into the present-day ‘clergyman’. The political sense of the word developed in the 17th century, from the notion of a ‘servant’ of the crown.

Derivatives from other languages to have established themselves in English include métier (18th c.), which came via French from vulgar Latin *misterium, an alteration of Latin ministerium ‘service’ (source of English ministry (14th c.)), and minstrel. And etymologically, minister is the antonym of master, whose Latin ancestor was based on magis ‘more’.