any pontifex.
any high or chief priest.
a bishop.
the Roman Catholic pope, the Bishop of Rome.

1600–10; earlier pontife < French, short for Latin pontifex pontifex

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World English Dictionary
pontiff (ˈpɒntɪf)
a former title of the pagan high priest at Rome, later used of popes and occasionally of other bishops, and now confined exclusively to the pope
[C17: from French pontife, from Latin pontifex]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Word Origin & History

c.1600, "high priest," from Fr. pontif (early 16c.), from L. pontifex, title of a Roman high priest (see pontifex). Used for "bishop" in Church Latin, but not recorded in that sense in English until 1670s, specifically "the bishop of Rome," the pope. Pontifical, however,
is used with this sense from mid-15c.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary

pontiff definition

Another name for the pope. Pontiff comes from a Latin word, meaning “bridge builder,” that was used as a title for some of the priests of ancient Rome.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Example sentences
The newly elected pontiff must then literally walk out of the college of cardinals.
He was referring to an earlier discussion, in which he asked whether even papal defenders admit the pontiff can err.
The fact is that the coverage of the pontiff's visit left much to be desired.
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