First thing this morning, I opened up The Baltimore Sun to find on the obituary page a headline identifying Michael Mariano Sabino as a “premiere distance runner.” So it’s going to be that kind of week.
A premiere (n.) is an initial public performance. The word as a verb means to present such a performance. The word comes from the Latin primus, or first. So does premier (adj.), which means most important, principal or foremost. As a noun, it is an equivalent term (for which headline writers are grateful) for prime minister.
Words from the same root branch into different paths, and the precise writer or editor learns to distinguish.
Principal (adj.) as a synonym for premier comes from the Latin principalis, which itself derives from princeps, or leader, prince, emperor. As a noun, a principal is a leader is the first among equals; the principal of a school was originally one of the teachers chosen to perform the administrative duties.
Principle (n.), or basic truth, rule, standard, etc., also comes froom the Latin princeps but arrives in English through a slightly different route, the Latin principium mutating into the Old French principe.
Primary (adj.), another word for principal or foremost, also comes from primus, as you probably suspected. So does prima donna, first lady, the leading female soloist in an opera company. (The secondary meaning fo a temperamental person rose inevitably from the first.)
And this initial post of the week also owes something to Latin, initium, or beginning. From that root we get initials, the first letters of words, and initiative, a beginning. This is why the beloved political term new initiative is redundant, unless it occurs in a context that contrasts the current initiative with a previous one.
Alpha, for foremost or highest ranked, we get from the name of the first letter of the Greek alphabet, the word alphabet itself coming from alpha and beta, the first two letters, to stand for the whole set of letters in the language.
And here is today’s omega.