Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Biology Headless or lacking a clearly defined head: acephalous worms.
  • adj. Having no leader.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Headless
  • adj. Without a distinct head; -- a term applied to bivalve mollusks.
  • adj. Having the style spring from the base, instead of from the apex, as is the case in certain ovaries
  • adj. Without a leader or chief.
  • adj. Wanting the beginning
  • adj. Deficient in the beginning, as a line of poetry that is missing its expected opening syllable - Brande

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Headless.
  • adj. Without a distinct head; -- a term applied to bivalve mollusks.
  • adj. Having the style spring from the base, instead of from the apex, as is the case in certain ovaries.
  • adj. Without a leader or chief.
  • adj. Wanting the beginning.
  • adj. Deficient at the beginning, as a line of poetry.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Without a head; headless: applied
  • Without a leader or chief.
  • Wanting a distinct beginning; indefinite in subject.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. lacking a head or a clearly defined head

Etymologies

From Medieval Latin acephalus, from Greek akephalos : a-, without; see a-1 + kephalē, head; see -cephalous.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From French acéphale, from Ancient Greek ἀκέφαλος (akephalos, "headless"), from ἀ- ("not") + κεφαλή (kephalē, "head"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • The state had been erected upon lessons learned through centuries trying to maintain peace within an insular acephalous tribal society with a penchant for infighting and was most functional when it resembled a "loose" confederation in which legislative and judicial powers were pushed down to the local level - a concept analogous to America's states' rights.

    Michael Hughes: Afghanistan Corrupted by U.S. and 30 Years of Foreign Meddling

  • John: another of their great exchanges (about then Brave Jeff Francoeur) was preserved here at blog I can't link to, but if you Google "Hernandez awkward introductions acephalous" you can find it. keith hernandez and his dog, duncan

    The Anti-Homers

  • This excerpt sums up the modus operandi of a rogue vice presidency in an at-times acephalous executive branch:

    William E. Jackson Jr.: The Vices of Cheney: The Burden is Upon the House Judiciary Committee

  • On the one hand, by providing formerly acephalous societies with formal leaders and symbols of legitimate (that is, VOC-enforced) authority, the company managed to integrate these societies into a greater chain of command: Elders commanded villages, governor commanded elders, governor-general commanded governor, etc.

    How Taiwan Became Chinese

  • Note 53: As Blussé shows, the lack of headmen was a problem from the start for the missionaries, who found it nearly impossible to enforce Christian conduct in such an acephalous society.

    How Taiwan Became Chinese

  • The admirable phrase, “A man with a special subject,” might have been invented on purpose for these acephalous species in the domain of literature and politics.

    A Woman of Thirty

  • A clumsy affair called a catamaran, the acephalous ancestor of the torpedo, was expected to relieve the sea of some thousands of people who had no business there.

    Springhaven

  • “Eaten him?” said the nightmare at his ear; and he sickened for an instant at the idea of rent, human remains absorbed and crushed into all that acephalous clockwork.

    The Complete Father Brown

  • "Eaten him?" said the nightmare at his ear; and he sickened for an instant at the idea of rent, human remains absorbed and crushed into all that acephalous clockwork.

    The Father Brown Omnibus

  • In contrast, we know relatively little about acephalous societies, although the archaeological excavations at Igbo - Ukwe in southeastern Nigeria demonstrate that complex political organizations may have existed even in societies without rulers.

    3. Historical Trends, 1000-1500

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  • What marvel, that we have sold our birth-right to an acephalous mollusk, when the simple use of the tongue has passed into such headless mongreldom?
    --Richard Blackmore, 1884, Tommy Upmore

    November 11, 2007