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A commissary is someone delegated by a superior
Superior (hierarchy)
In a hierarchy or tree structure of any kind, a superior is an individual or position at a higher level in the hierarchy than another , and thus closer to the apex. It is often used in business terminology to refer to people who are supervisors and in the military to people who are higher in the...

 to execute a duty or an office; in a formal, legal context, one who has received power from a legitimate superior authority to pass judgment in a certain cause or to take information concerning it.

Word history

The word is recorded in English since 1362, for "one to whom special duty is entrusted by a higher power". This Anglo-French
Anglo-Norman language
Anglo-Norman is the name traditionally given to the kind of Old Norman used in England and to some extent elsewhere in the British Isles during the Anglo-Norman period....

 word derives from Medieval Latin commissarius, from Latin commissus (pp. of committere) "entrusted,".

Originally its use was ecclesiastical, as in Commissary Apostolic
Commissary Apostolic
A Commissary Apostolic is Commissary who has been appointed by the pope, hence commissary Apostolic.-History:The custom of appointing such commissaries by the Holy See is a very ancient one...

 or in charge of a Franciscan Commissariat of the Holy Land
Commissariat of the Holy Land
Commissariat of the Holy Land is the term in the Order of Friars Minor the territory or district assigned to a commissary, whose duty it is was to collect alms for the maintenance of the Catholic Holy Places in Palestine/Israel committed to the care of the Friars Minor.The term also designates, in...


The military sense of "official in charge of supply of food, stores, transport" dates to 1489. A Commissary was an officer of a Commissariat
A commissariat is the department of an army charged with the provision of supplies, both food and forage, for the troops. The supply of military stores such as ammunition is not included in the duties of a commissariat. In almost every army the duties of transport and supply are performed by the...

. The word continued to be used in ranks of the supply departments of the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 until 1888.

Metonymic use

In the United States armed forces
United States armed forces
The United States Armed Forces are the military forces of the United States. They consist of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.The United States has a strong tradition of civilian control of the military...

 and prison
A prison is a place in which people are physically confined and, usually, deprived of a range of personal freedoms. Imprisonment or incarceration is a legal penalty that may be imposed by the state for the commission of a crime...

s, as well as the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

, it has the derived meaning of a store for provisions. The United States Defense Commissary Agency
Defense Commissary Agency
The Defense Commissary Agency is an agency of the United States Department of Defense that operates more than 250 commissaries worldwide...

 operates commissaries that are similar to supermarkets, providing service members with most of the same available in the U.S. economy regardless of where they are stationed worldwide. Commissaries sell primarily grocery articles; other items can be purchased at a base exchange
Base exchange
A Base Exchange is a type of retail store operating on United States military installations worldwide...

/post exchange.

In the US film
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

 industry, the word commissary is often used to mean something which is a refectory
A refectory is a dining room, especially in monasteries, boarding schools and academic institutions. One of the places the term is most often used today is in graduate seminaries...


Sources and references