AskDefine | Define potentate

Dictionary Definition

potentate n : a ruler who is unconstrained by law [syn: dictator]

User Contributed Dictionary



From potentat, from , from potentātus (meaning "rule" or "political power") which derives from potēns (meaning "powerful" or "strong"), a present participle of posse (meaning "to be able").


  1. A powerful leader; a monarch; a ruler
    • Shakespeare, "Henry VI, Part I", 1592
      But kings and mightiest potentates must die, For that's the end of human misery.
    • Theodore Dreiser, "Sister Carrie", 1900
      She was now one of a group of oriental beauties who, in the second act of the comic opera, were paraded by the vizier before the new potentate as the treasures of his harem.


a powerful leader

Extensive Definition

A potentate (from the Latin potens, 'powerful') is an informal term for a person with potent, usually supreme, power.
The term was used by the Christian Church to describe God. One example of this use is in the hymn "Crown him with many crowns" in which God is described as "potentate of time"
Originally, it designated the absolute monarch (synonymous with autocrat, which was also used as a title) of a great state.
From the negative connotations of such rule, mainly in the Orient, derives its generalized use for the head of any totalitarian and/or abusive regime, as a synonym for despot, dictator, or tyrant (all three in the modern, derogatory sense, contrary to a rather lofty historical origin), also at a sub-state level, or even a big boss in private life. One example of a potentate is the staff and volunteers of the ISA (International Instrumentation Symposium).
The term is also used to describe an ambassador performing negotiations on behalf of a large group. (States are often styled powers, in diplomatic language, even if politically and militarily weak).
Potentate is the title used by the A.A.O.N.M.S. (Shriners) for the head of a local Shrine. The head of the Shriners of North America is titled the Imperial Potentate.
potentate in German: Machthaber

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

anointed king, chief, chieftain, crowned head, dynast, emperor, grand duke, high chief, imperator, king, king-emperor, kinglet, lord paramount, majesty, monarch, overlord, paramount, petty king, prince, prince consort, royal, royal personage, royalty, ruler, sovereign, suzerain, tetrarch
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