[cheef-tuhn, -tin]
the chief of a clan or a tribe.
a leader of a group, band, etc.: the robbers' chieftain.
(initial capital letter) Military. Britain's main battle tank since 1969, fitted with a 120mm gun and two machine guns and weighing 55 tons (50 metric tons).

1275–1325; Middle English cheftayne, variant of chevetaine < Old French < Late Latin capitāneus captain

chieftaincy, chieftainship, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
Cite This Source Link To Chieftain
World English Dictionary
chieftain (ˈtʃiːftən, -tɪn)
1.  the head or leader of a tribe or clan
2.  the chief of a group of people
[C14: from Old French chevetaine, from Late Latin capitāneus commander; see captain]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
Cite This Source
Word Origin & History

early 14c., from O.Fr. chevetain, from L.L. capitaneus "commander," from L. capitis, gen. of caput "head" (see head). According to "Rob Roy" (1818) a Highland chieftain was the head of a branch of a clan, a chief was the head of the whole name.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
Cite This Source
Encyclopedia Britannica


political leader of a social group, such as a band, tribe, or confederacy of tribes. Among many peoples, chiefs have very little coercive authority and depend on community consensus for implementing recommendations; often a number of recognized chiefs form a tribal chiefs' council. Among more advanced preliterate societies, there may be a single paramount tribal chief with coercive authority.

Learn more about chieftain with a free trial on

Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
Cite This Source
Example sentences
Often the chieftain himself took up the harp and sang, perhaps a little boastfully, of great deeds.
But in this telephone conversation, he's mustering the old corporate-chieftain bravura.
Copyright © 2014, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature