Definition of chieftain in US English:



  • 1The leader of a people or clan.

    • ‘I spent a few minutes in the abbey museum, admiring high-relief tomb carvings of bygone Scots kings and chieftains in full battle gear.’
    • ‘Archeologists have found evidence that a warrior chieftain took control over most of Greece back in the early seventh century B.C.’
    • ‘Beyond that, there were 10,000 further titles of nobility (chiefs, chieftains, feudal barons and lairds), so that one Scot in 45 belonged to a noble house.’
    • ‘These were the fortified residences of local lords and chieftains, both of the native Irish families and the descendants of the Anglo-Norman settlers.’
    • ‘The country had lost its charismatic leader, the clan its chieftain.’
    • ‘These men may have been of sufficient influence to become imperceptibly more like chieftains in control of warbands than Roman commanders.’
    • ‘From his throne of ivory and sculpted wood, the king ruled through an elaborate network of councilors and governors, clan elders and local chieftains, priests and electors.’
    • ‘They may be clamouring for democracy and progress, but Lebanon's chieftains are feudal at heart.’
    • ‘Barons or lesser feudal chieftains replicated this structure, which was not a flexible or adaptive one.’
    • ‘Armed to the teeth and clad in kilt, tartan hose and bonnet, he looks every inch the clan chieftain.’
    • ‘The key consideration in war-torn Gaelic society was that marriages should seal important political and military alliances between the chieftains' dynasties.’
    • ‘The Tang Dynasty appointed local clan chieftains to govern for them.’
    • ‘After the Ottoman Empire gained general control of the area in 1516, Lebanon continued to maintain a feudal system of rule by local chieftains.’
    • ‘It could be a priest, a king, chieftain or tribal leader.’
    • ‘According to Innes, all that was conferred to chieftains in royal charters was the arable land on estates - not the waste land and mountains.’
    • ‘The big event on Saturday is the election of the new chieftain and clan banquet in the Abbeyleix Manor Hotel.’
    • ‘The annual clan banquet will be in the Manor Hotel on Saturday night where the clan chieftain will be elected.’
    • ‘Henry II came to Ireland in order to secure the feudal loyalty of the Normans, and many Irish chieftains.’
    • ‘However he was very popular with the lords and chieftains of his day as he stayed in their castles and manors and wrote of their prowess and lineage.’
    • ‘For centuries, they lived in clans commanded by chieftains and feuded among themselves.’
    leader, head, headman, ruler, overlord, master, commander, suzerain, seigneur, liege, liege lord, potentate
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    1. 1.1informal A powerful member of an organization.
      • ‘With the economy flailing, many corporate executives and leveraged-buyout chieftains are taking a wait-and-see attitude.’
      • ‘In some cases, the highly compensated corporate chieftains are presiding over companies that are slashing payrolls.’
      • ‘Each spring, corporate America's preeminent chieftains offer sage counsel to eager university graduates across the nation.’
      • ‘These are messy matters corporate chieftains would much rather handle behind closed - or, even better, locked and barricaded - boardroom doors.’
      • ‘Unlike the greedy profiteers and corporate chieftains who actually made money on those stocks, we were not acting irresponsibly.’


Middle English and Old French chevetaine, from late Latin capitaneus (see captain). The spelling was altered by association with chief.