One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
1In Middle-Eastern contexts: the captain of a boat or ship.
2In Muslim countries: a person in authority; a chief, leader, governor, or person of similar status.
Late 16th century; earliest use found in Thomas Washington (fl. 1585). From Middle French raiz, reys, reis, French reïs, raïs Turkish ship's captain, Turkish official and its etymon Ottoman Turkish re'īs (Turkish reis; now usually with reference to the captain of a small vessel) from Arabic ra'īs (also rā'is and (in colloquial pronunciation) rayyis) chief, chieftain, leader, chairman, governor, president from ra's head. In recent use in sense 2 probably directly from Arabic ra'īs. With the earlier quots. in this sense compare also Persian raʿīs kind of government official, although this is not normally used to denote a village headman.
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