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Old English lædere "one who leads," agent noun from lædan (see lead (v.)). As a title for the head of an authoritarian state, from 1918 (translating führer, Duce, caudillo, etc.). Meaning "writing or statement meant to begin a discussion or debate" is late 13c.; in modern use often short for leading article (1807) "opinion piece in a British newspaper" (leader in this sense attested from 1837).