a person who leads others, especially in opposition to authority, law, etc.: a ringleader of revolutionary activities.

Origin of ringleader

First recorded in 1495–1505; ring1 + leader
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for ringleader

Contemporary Examples of ringleader

Historical Examples of ringleader

  • He was particularly set against me, as I had been ringleader in the cobbing.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • I will not deny that I was a ringleader in this affair, though I know I had no other motive than escape.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • Vallington, as the ringleader in this conspiracy, I call upon you for an answer.

    Breaking Away

    Oliver Optic

  • At that speech, the red-faced man, who seemed to be the ringleader, eyed me narrowly.

  • It was at Boston, the ringleader in rebellion, that the issue was to be tried.

    Tea Leaves


British Dictionary definitions for ringleader



a person who leads others in any kind of unlawful or mischievous activity
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 ringleader

c.1500, from Middle English phrase to lead the ring (mid-14c.), probably from a medieval metaphor from dancing. See ring (n.1) + lead (v.1).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper