I am working on getting out my first Mei-hua story. The novel is part of a YA historical/adventure trilogy set in 1380 China. Mei-hua, the biracial daughter of a magistrate, finds her world turned upside down when her father is targeted by a political enemy. I have had a lot of fun researching and writing this trilogy.
This year I will begin publishing the Mei-hua series as an indie author and one part of the indie project is creating covers. To tie the three books together, I wanted the covers to have a similar feel. Kelly Cochran, who is designing them, came up with a splendid idea: use a ribbon with a seal on it and place the ribbon on each front cover. Since the trilogy is also a mystery, the character for secret or mysterious [mì, mih 秘] is stamped on the seal.
In checking out this character (remember that the actual character used for Chinese words infuse the word itself with another layer of meaning), I noticed that mì, mih is a part of the word for secretary 秘書 mì shū, mih shu. The second character for secretary [shū, shu] means book.
This combination [mì+ shū] struck me as a wonderful description of the role of secretaries—keeping in mind that this word was apparently used historically for an official secretary, such as one who works in the government, which is often a powerful position.
What does this combination of characters mean when referring to the secretary’s role? I think it means that the secretary must be discrete and not spread information about what he does and learns in his job, because a secretary is privy to extremely sensitive information.
Of course, 秘書 mì shū, mih shu could also refer to written materials, such as ledgers and documents that the secretary writes and keeps track of. .
In either case, the Chinese character’s original meaning imparts a special meaning to the new word, secretary, with a connotation beyond the noun’s simple denotation. It suggests secrecy, confidentiality, and concealment. How much fun is that!