A functionary is someone who fills a specific role in a political party or some other organization. We tend to picture them as people in gray suits who follow the boss's orders and don't think for themselves.

The origins of this word go back to the French Revolution, and specifically Napoleon. After conquering most of Europe, Napoleon needed lots of people to help carry out all the functions, or duties, of his huge, centralized state. To build an empire you need soldiers; to run an empire you need office workers. These desk knights, if you will, were called fonctionnaires.

Definitions of functionary
  1. noun
    a worker who holds or is invested with an office
    synonyms: official
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    Ralph Johnson Bunche
    United States diplomat and United Nations official (1904-1971)
    Warren Earl Burger
    United States jurist appointed chief justice of the United States Supreme Court by Richard Nixon (1907-1995)
    Salmon Portland Chase
    United States politician and jurist who served as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court (1808-1873)
    John Foster Dulles
    United States diplomat who (as Secretary of State) pursued a policy of opposition to the USSR by providing aid to American allies (1888-1959)
    Oliver Ellsworth
    United States jurist and the third chief justice of the United States Supreme Court (1745-1807)
    Melville Weston Fuller
    United States jurist and chief justice of the United States Supreme Court (1833-1910)
    John Kenneth Galbraith
    United States economist (born in Canada) who served as ambassador to India (born in 1908)
    Edmund Charles Edouard Genet
    French diplomat who in 1793 tried to draw the United States into the war between France and England (1763-1834)
    Andrei Andreyevich Gromyko
    Soviet ambassador to the United States and to the United Nations (1909-1989)
    Huig de Groot
    Dutch jurist and diplomat whose writings established the basis of modern international law (1583-1645)
    Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjold
    Swedish diplomat who greatly extended the influence of the United Nations in peacekeeping matters (1905-1961)
    William Averell Harriman
    United States financier who negotiated a treaty with the Soviet Union banning tests of nuclear weapons (1891-1986)
    Townsend Harris
    United States diplomat who was instrumental in opening Japan to foreign trade (1804-1878)
    Charles Evans Hughes
    United States jurist who served as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court (1862-1948)
    Cordell Hull
    United States diplomat who did the groundwork for creating the United Nations (1871-1955)
    John Jay
    United States diplomat and jurist who negotiated peace treaties with Britain and served as the first chief justice of the United States Supreme Court (1745-1829)
    Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros
    prelate who was the confessor of Isabella I and who was later appointed Grand Inquisitor (1436-1517)
    Henry Alfred Kissinger
    United States diplomat who served under President Nixon and President Ford (born in 1923)
    Le Duc Tho
    Vietnamese diplomat who negotiated with Henry Kissinger to end the war in Vietnam (1911-1990)
    Vicomte Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps
    French diplomat who supervised the construction of the Suez Canal (1805-1894)
    Trygve Halvden Lie
    Norwegian diplomat who was the first Secretary General of the United Nations (1896-1968)
    John Marshall
    United States jurist; as chief justice of the Supreme Court he established the principles of United States constitutional law (1755-1835)
    Sir Harold George Nicolson
    English diplomat and author (1886-1968)
    Thomas Nelson Page
    United States diplomat and writer about the Old South (1853-1922)
    William Hubbs Rehnquist
    United States jurist who served as an associate justice on the United States Supreme Court from 1972 until 1986, when he was appointed chief justice (born in 1924)
    Anna Eleanor Roosevelt
    wife of Franklin Roosevelt and a strong advocate of human rights (1884-1962)
    John Rutledge
    United States jurist and second chief justice of the United States Supreme Court; he was appointed by George Washington and briefly served as chief justice but was ultimately rejected by the United States Senate (1739-1800)
    (Old Testament) a judge of Israel who performed herculean feats of strength against the Philistines until he was betrayed to them by his mistress Delilah
    Adlai Ewing Stevenson
    United States politician and diplomat (1900-1968)
    Harlan Fisk Stone
    United States jurist who was named chief justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1941 by Franklin D. Roosevelt (1872-1946)
    William Howard Taft
    27th President of the United States and later chief justice of the United States Supreme Court (1857-1930)
    Roger Brooke Taney
    United States jurist who served as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court; remembered for his ruling that slaves and their descendants have no rights as citizens (1777-1864)
    Tomas de Torquemada
    the Spaniard who as Grand Inquisitor was responsible for the death of thousands of Jews and suspected witches during the Spanish Inquisition (1420-1498)
    Frederick Moore Vinson
    United States jurist who served as chief justice of the Supreme Court (1890-1953)
    Morrison Remick Waite
    United States jurist who was appointed chief justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1874 by President Grant (1816-1888)
    Kurt Waldheim
    Austrian diplomat who was Secretary General of the United Nations from 1972 to 1981; in 1986 he was elected president of Austria in spite of worldwide allegations that he had direct knowledge of Nazi atrocities during World War II (born in 1918)
    Earl Warren
    United States jurist who served as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court (1891-1974)
    Edward Douglas White Jr.
    United States jurist appointed chief justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1910 by President Taft; noted for his work on antitrust legislation (1845-1921)
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    a humorous but derogatory term for an official of a large organization (especially a political organization)
    an official who is appointed
    an officer of the court who is employed to execute writs and processes and make arrests etc.
    a minor parish official who serves a ceremonial function
    administrative official, bureaucrat
    an official of a bureaucracy
    an official who performs the duties of an office temporarily
    a person who is authorized to read publications or correspondence or to watch theatrical performances and suppress in whole or in part anything considered obscene or politically unacceptable
    census taker, enumerator
    someone who collects census data by visiting individual homes
    church officer
    a church official
    city father
    an important municipal official
    civil servant
    a public official who is a member of the civil service
    commissar, political commissar
    an official of the Communist Party who was assigned to teach party principles to a military unit
    Comptroller General
    a United States federal official who supervises expenditures and settles claims against the government
    Comptroller of the Currency
    a United States federal official who regulates the national banks
    diplomat, diplomatist
    an official engaged in international negotiations
    elected official
    official who won the office in a free election
    an official charged with the care of the horses of princes or nobles
    fire marshall
    an official who is responsible for the prevention and investigation of fires
    fire warden, forest fire fighter, ranger
    an official who is responsible for managing and protecting an area of forest
    hearing examiner, hearing officer
    an official appointed by a government agency to conduct an investigation or administrative hearing so that the agency can exercise its statutory powers
    hangover, holdover
    an official who remains in office after his term
    incumbent, officeholder
    the official who holds an office
    an official of the ecclesiastical court of the Inquisition
    invalidator, nullifier, voider
    an official who can invalidate or nullify
    judge, jurist, justice
    a public official authorized to decide questions brought before a court of justice
    an official who can issue a license or give authoritative permission (especially one who licenses publications)
    mace, macebearer, macer
    an official who carries a mace of office
    any high government official or bureaucrat
    notary, notary public
    someone legally empowered to witness signatures and certify a document's validity and to take depositions
    someone who gives formal notice
    officeholder, officer
    someone who is appointed or elected to an office and who holds a position of trust
    agent, federal agent
    any agent or representative of a federal agency or bureau
    (Roman Catholic Church) an official in charge of an ecclesiastical province acting under the superior general of a religious order
    postmaster general
    the official in charge of the national postal service
    an official in a modern colony who has considerable administrative power
    prosecuting attorney, prosecuting officer, prosecutor, public prosecutor
    a government official who conducts criminal prosecutions on behalf of the state
    any of several public officials of ancient Rome (usually in charge of finance and administration)
    an official who enlists personnel for military service
    record-keeper, recorder, registrar
    someone responsible for keeping records
    an official responsible for control and supervision of a particular activity or area of public interest
    returning officer
    the official in each electorate who holds the election and returns the results
    an official who affixes a seal to a document
    a customs official whose job is to search baggage or goods or vehicles for contraband or dutiable items
    teller, vote counter
    an official appointed to count the votes (especially in legislative assembly)
    town clerk
    the official who keeps a town's records
    doorkeeper, usher
    an official stationed at the entrance of a courtroom or legislative chamber
    a high official in a Muslim government (especially in the Ottoman Empire)
    an official who weighs and records the weight
    a mayor or chief magistrate of a Spanish town
    ambassador, embassador
    a diplomat of the highest rank; accredited as representative from one country to another
    bean counter
    an accountant or bureaucrat who is believed to place undue emphasis on the control of expenditures
    a person who takes or counts votes
    charge d'affaires
    the official temporarily in charge of a diplomatic mission in the absence of the ambassador
    chief justice
    the judge who presides over a supreme court
    an officer in the Episcopal church who helps a parish priest with secular matters
    a diplomat appointed by a government to protect its commercial interests and help its citizens in a foreign country
    a forest fire fighter who is sent to battle remote and severe forest fires (often for days at a time)
    a wise and upright judge
    Protestant deacon, deacon
    a Protestant layman who assists the minister
    DA, district attorney
    an official prosecutor for a judicial district
    formerly the chief magistrate in the republics of Venice and Genoa
    any of various church officers
    envoy, envoy extraordinary, minister plenipotentiary
    a diplomat having less authority than an ambassador
    Grand Inquisitor
    director of the court of Inquisition (especially in Spain and Portugal)
    high commissioner
    a senior diplomat from one country to another who is assigned ambassadorial rank
    Indian agent
    a representative of the federal government to American Indian tribes (especially on Indian reservations)
    (Roman Catholic Church) a diplomatic representative of the Pope ranking below a nuncio
    justiciar, justiciary
    formerly a high judicial officer
    lame duck
    an elected official still in office but not slated to continue
    lieutenant governor
    an elected official serving as deputy to the governor of a state of the United States
    a lay judge or civil authority who administers the law (especially one who conducts a court dealing with minor offenses)
    diplomatic minister, minister
    a diplomat representing one government to another; ranks below ambassador
    nuncio, papal nuncio
    (Roman Catholic Church) a diplomatic representative of the Pope having ambassadorial status
    the person who holds an office
    Fed, Federal, federal official
    any federal law-enforcement officer
    a judge of a probate court
    a clerk or bureaucrat who does paperwork
    persona grata
    a diplomat who is acceptable to the government to which he is sent
    persona non grata
    a diplomat who is unacceptable to the government to which he is sent
    placeman, placeseeker
    a disparaging term for an appointee
    a diplomat who is fully authorized to represent his or her government
    praetor, pretor
    an annually elected magistrate of the ancient Roman Republic
    probation officer
    the officer of the court who supervises probationers
    (ancient Rome) someone employed by the Roman Emperor to manage finance and taxes
    an Islamic judge
    a recorder appointed by a committee to prepare reports of the meetings
    a barrister or solicitor who serves as part-time judge in towns or boroughs
    a sergeant deputized to enlist recruits
    an elected member of a board of officials who run New England towns
    an elected member of a board of officials who run New England towns
    sergeant at arms, serjeant-at-arms
    an officer (as of a legislature or court) who maintains order and executes commands
    sacristan, sexton
    an officer of the church who is in charge of sacred objects
    state attorney, state's attorney
    a prosecuting attorney for a state
    assessor, tax assessor
    an official who evaluates property for the purpose of taxing it
    collector of internal revenue, exciseman, internal revenue agent, tax collector, taxman
    someone who collects taxes for the government
    a bureaucrat who levies taxes
    trial judge
    a judge in a trial court
    one (as a judge) who examines and settles a case
    a federal agent who engages in trust busting
    a church officer who takes care of the interior of the building and acts as an attendant (carries the verge) during ceremonies
    a man who is a member of a church vestry
    a woman who is a member of a church vestry
    George F. Kennan, George Frost Kennan, Kennan
    United States diplomat who recommended a policy of containment in dealing with Soviet aggression (1904-2005)
    type of:
    skilled worker, skilled workman, trained worker
    a worker who has acquired special skills
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