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[cheef-tuh n, -tin]
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  1. the chief of a clan or a tribe.
  2. a leader of a group, band, etc.: the robbers' chieftain.
  3. (initial capital letter) Military. Britain's main battle tank since 1969, fitted with a 120mm gun and two machine guns and weighing 55 tons (50 metric tons).
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Origin of chieftain

1275–1325; Middle English cheftayne, variant of chevetaine < Old French < Late Latin capitāneus captain
Related formschief·tain·cy, chief·tain·ship, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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Examples from the Web for chieftain

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • He was the chieftain of a clan that spread over Down and Antrim.

    The Foolish Lovers

    St. John G. Ervine

  • The next moment the chieftain entered and glared fiercely at Siegmund.

  • For this are you ill, in order to punish your father, because our chieftain the axe is angry.

    Aino Folk-Tales

    Basil Hall Chamberlain

  • But there was something of the chieftain, something of the prophet, about him.

    The Great Hunger

    Johan Bojer

  • He is described as a chieftain standing in a chariot drawn by two horses.

    History of Religion

    Allan Menzies

British Dictionary definitions for chieftain


  1. the head or leader of a tribe or clan
  2. the chief of a group of people
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Derived Formschieftaincy or chieftainship, noun

Word Origin

C14: from Old French chevetaine, from Late Latin capitāneus commander; see captain
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for chieftain


early 14c., cheftayne "ruler, chief, head" of something, from Anglo-French chiefteyn, Old French chevetain "captain, chief, leader," from Late Latin capitaneus "commander," from Latin capitis, genitive of caput "head" (see capitulum). According to "Rob Roy" (1818) a Highland chieftain was the head of a branch of a clan, a chief was the head of the whole name. Related: Chieftainship.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper