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[klan] /klæn/
a group of families or households, as among the Scottish Highlanders, the heads of which claim descent from a common ancestor:
the Mackenzie clan.
a group of people of common descent; family:
Our whole clan got together for Thanksgiving.
a group of people, as a clique, set, society, or party, especially as united by some common trait, characteristic, or interest:
a clan of actors and directors.
  1. the principal social unit of tribal organization, in which descent is reckoned exclusively in either the paternal or the maternal line.
  2. a group of people regarded as being descended from a common ancestor.
late Middle English
1375-1425; late Middle English (Scots) < Scots Gaelic clann < Old Irish cland offspring < Latin planta scion, plant, perhaps directly < British Celtic; compare Welsh plant children
Related forms
clanless, adjective
interclan, adjective
subclan, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for clans
  • One of the primary activities of prehistoric clans was the acknowledgment of all members on an intimate level.
  • Our ancestors worked in groups or clans and considered outsiders as a possible threat.
  • They portioned off the claims of tribes, individuals, clans.
  • They are divided into dozens of tribes and hundreds of clans, which are usually at war with each other.
  • Over time authority drained from the emperor's seat as powerful samurai clans formed in the countryside.
  • Land ownership is fragmented among local clans, and their leaders disagree about which lands should be protected.
  • Be sure to check the river for the elephant clans that come down to drink.
  • He expected odious solitary scavengers but instead found sophisticated hunters living in complex clans.
  • Three major techniques were used by many different clans.
  • The past comes to life when participating clans perform historical reenactments.
British Dictionary definitions for clans


a group of people interrelated by ancestry or marriage
a group of families with a common surname and a common ancestor, acknowledging the same leader, esp among the Scots and the Irish
a group of people united by common characteristics, aims, or interests
Word Origin
C14: from Scottish Gaelic clann family, descendants, from Latin planta sprout, plant1
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for clans



early 15c., from Gaelic clann "family, stock, offspring," akin to Old Irish cland "offspring, tribe," both from Latin planta "offshoot" (see plant (n.)). The Goidelic branch of Celtic (including Gaelic) had no initial p-, so it substituted k- or c- for Latin p-. The same Latin word in (non-Goidelic) Middle Welsh became plant "children."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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