Dual Language Schools: Biliteracy Word of the WeekHow to Become a "Chief"

02/2019
Author Photo: Velázquez Press

In honor of Presidents' Day, today we will look at the word 'chief.' The word 'chief' is used in many ways to denote a person in a leadership role, like a tribal chief, a chief executive officer, a commander-in-chief (a title used for a president, or head of state, of a country), and so on. The female variant, 'chiefess,' is used only to refer to a female chief of a tribe in her own right or wife of a chief . Otherwise, chief may refer to both a man or woman who carry such title. Chiefs throughout the world have had enormous privileges and responsibilities, whether by merit or inherited; their title could only be appreciated in the cultural context in which the meaning of the words took form.

'Chief'—a leader or ruler of a people or clan ;the head of a body of persons or an organization —was introduced into the English language around the 14th century from Old French with the meaning of a leader, ruler, or head of an entity . The expression, however, was always connected with the meaning of 'head,' for it derived from the Vulgar Latin 'capum' whose original Latin form was 'caput,' which only meant the body part on top of one's neck. In Arabic, the word for chief is 'shaykh'—from which English speakers borrowed the word for an Arab tribal leader as 'sheikh'—which comes from the same root as 'elder' and 'to grow old,' implies that a chief has had to live long to gain experience to hold the position. In Mandarin, for example, 'tóuzi' can be broken down to 'tóu'—head, and 'zi'—child, highlighting the importance of the first born in a leadership position.

A chief, whether of government, the military, a tribe or village has a lot of responsibility. A chief is a leader and, like all leaders, must lead by example. "Heavy is the head that wears the crown" is not just a saying, it is a reality for those who take their leadership seriously. Being the chief of something requires a person to be attentive to the needs of others. Just like the head, which has the organs necessary to think, see, feel, listen, speak, and smell, is attentive to what the rest of the body needs, it also has the command to do what is right and to walk on a path of well-being for his or her followers.