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[tan-ist, thaw-nist]
noun History/Historical.
  1. the successor apparent to a Celtic chief, usually the oldest or worthiest of his kin, chosen by election among the tribe during the chief's lifetime.
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Origin of tanist

First recorded in 1530–40, tanist is from the Irish word tánaiste second, substitute, heir by election
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for tanist

Historical Examples of tanist

  • The "tanist" stood next to the chief, and was his successor.

    The Poem-Book of the Gael


  • To avert strife his tanist, or successor, was elected in his lifetime.

  • Other monoliths are probably the Tanist Stones, where the new chief or king was elected, and sworn to protect and lead his people.

  • The use of the Tanist Stone is, like so many other primitive customs, of Eastern origin, and traceable to a very remote era.

  • Very often the sons refused to accept the tanist, and bloody quarrels followed.

British Dictionary definitions for tanist


  1. history the heir apparent of a Celtic chieftain chosen by election during the chief's lifetime: usually the worthiest of his kin
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Derived Formstanistry, noun

Word Origin for tanist

C16: from Irish Gaelic tánaiste, literally: the second person
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 tanist


"elected heir of a Celtic chief," 1530s, from Gaelic tanaiste, literally "parallel, second," from Old Irish tanaise "designated successor," from Celtic *tani-hessio- "one who is waited for."

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper