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

  • n. One who is highest in rank or authority; a leader.
  • n. A chief petty officer.
  • n. Nautical The chief engineer of a ship.
  • n. Slang A boss.
  • n. Heraldry The upper section of a shield.
  • n. The most important or valuable part.
  • adj. Highest in rank, authority, or office.
  • adj. Most important or influential. See Usage Note at absolute.
  • adv. Archaic Chiefly.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. An informal address to an equal.
  • adj. Primary; principal.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Highest in office or rank; principal; head.
  • adj. Principal or most eminent in any quality or action; most distinguished; having most influence; taking the lead; most important.
  • adj. Very intimate, near, or close.
  • n. The head or leader of any body of men; a commander, as of an army; a head man, as of a tribe, clan, or family; a person in authority who directs the work of others; the principal actor or agent.
  • n. The principal part; the most valuable portion.
  • n. The upper third part of the field. It is supposed to be composed of the dexter, sinister, and middle chiefs.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A head; the head or upper part of anything.
  • n. The person highest in authority; the head or head man.
  • n. A principal, leader, or director in general; especially, the hereditary or the chosen head of a clan or tribe: used as a title particularly for the heads of Scottish Highland clans, and for the controlling or governing heads of uncivilized or semi-civilized tribes.
  • n. The principal officer of a bureau or division of the civil service, or of an editorial staff, newspaper office, mercantile establishment, or other organized body.
  • n. The principal or most important part or portion; the bulk or larger part of one thing or of many.
  • n. In heraldry, the head or upper part of the escutcheon, from side to side, cut off horizontally by a straight line, and containing properly a third part of the dimensions of the escutcheon.
  • n. The prime; the most important part.
  • n. At the head; in the principal or highest position or office: as, the commander-in-chief.
  • n. In heraldry, charged upon the upper part of the shield: a term generally used when the chief itself is not indicated
  • n. Directly: said of land tenure: as, to hold land in chief (to hold it directly from the sovereign by honorable personal services).
  • n. In direct or original procedure: as, an examination in chief. See examination.
  • n. Synonyms Chief, Chieftain, Commander, Leader, Head, Chief, literally the head, is applied to one who occupies the highest rank in military or civil matters: as, an Indian chief; a military chief; the chief of a department in the civil service; a party chief. Chieftain is now mostly poetic, and is sometimes used in prose where the leadership is peculiarly suggestive of the past: as, a Highland chieftain. A commander is one who issues commands to a body or organization of a military or naval character, or has authority over it: as, the commander of the army in the East; the commander of the Asiatic squadron. A leader is the head of a party or faction, or one who conducts some special undertaking, perhaps actually going at the head: as, the leader of the House of Commons; the leader of the Conservative or Republican party; the leader of the storming party or forlorn hope; a leader of fashion. Head is applied to the chief of a tribe or family or profession: as, the head of the house of Cavendish; the head of the church; the head of the bar.
  • Highest in office, authority, rank, or estimation; placed above the rest; principal: as, a chief priest; the chief butler.
  • Hence— Principal or most eminent, in any quality or action; such that others (things, persons, particulars of any kind) are by comparison inferior or subordinate; most important; leading; main; most conspicuous.
  • Intimate; near; close.
  • Synonyms First, paramount, supreme, cardinal, capital, prime, vital, especial, essential, great, grand.
  • Chiefly. Thomson.
  • n. The senior general-staff officer on the staff of the commander of an army, army-corps, division, or department.
  • n. The senior officer on the personal staff of a flag-officer in command of a fleet or squadron. When practicable, he is senior in rank to all other officers under command of the flag-officer.

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

  • n. the head of a tribe or clan
  • adj. most important element
  • n. a person who is in charge
  • n. a person who exercises control over workers


Middle English chef, from Old French, from Latin caput, head; see kaput- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English, from Old French chief ("leader"), from Late Latin capum ("head") (from which also captain, chieftain), from Latin caput ("head") (English cap ("head covering")), from Proto-Indo-European *kauput- (English head). (Wiktionary)



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  • In heraldry, the head or upper part of the shield, containing a third of the field, divided off by one line, either straight or crenellé (indented). When one chief is borne upon another it is called surmounting.

    November 25, 2007