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pontifex

[pon-tuh-feks] /ˈpɒn təˌfɛks/
noun, plural pontifices
[pon-tif-uh-seez] /pɒnˈtɪf əˌsiz/ (Show IPA).
Roman Religion
1.
a member of the Pontifical College, which was presided over by a chief priest (Pontifex Maximus)
Origin
1570-1580
1570-80; < Latin: apparently literally, path-maker, equivalent to ponti- (stem of pōns) bridge, probably orig., path (see pons) + -fec- (combining form of facere to make) + -s nominative singular ending; the literal application is unclear
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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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British Dictionary definitions for pontifex maximus

pontifex

/ˈpɒntɪˌfɛks/
noun (pl) pontifices (pɒnˈtɪfɪˌsiːz)
1.
(in ancient Rome) any of the senior members of the Pontifical College, presided over by the Pontifex Maximus
Word Origin
C16: from Latin, perhaps from Etruscan but influenced by folk etymology as if meaning literally: bridge-maker, from pons bridge + -fex from facere to make
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 pontifex maximus

pontifex

n.

member of the supreme college of priests in ancient Rome, 1570s, from Latin pontifex "high priest, chief of the priests," probably from pont-, stem of pons "bridge" (see pons) + -fex, -ficis, root of facere "make" (see factitious). If so, the word originally meant "bridge-maker," or "path-maker."

Weekley points out that, "bridge-building has always been regarded as a pious work of divine inspiration." Or the term may be metaphoric of bridging the earthly world and the realm of the gods. Other suggestions trace it to Oscan-Umbrian puntis "propitiary offering," or to a lost Etruscan word, in either case altered by folk etymology to resemble the Latin for "bridge-maker." In Old English, pontifex is glossed in the Durham Ritual (Old Northumbrian dialect) as brycgwyrcende "bridge-maker."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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