Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A man who is the head of a household or the father of a family.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A man who is the head of a household, family or tribe.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. The head of a family; in a large sense, the proprietor of an estate; one who is his own master.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. The father of a family; the head of a household; hence, sometimes, the head man of a community; the chief of a tribe.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. the male head of family or tribe

Etymologies

Latin paterfamiliās : pater, father; see pater + familiās, archaic genitive of familia, family; see family.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From around 1425 to 1475 from late Middle English which itself came from the Latin term with the same meaning. From the Latin term pater ("father") + familiās, an archaic genitive of familia ("family", "household"). Literally meaning "father of the family" or "father of the household". Confer the English word family. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Who can forgot the precocious language of George Clooney as his mouth spit out the word paterfamilias, so many times that it should have gotten old.

    The Spit That Made History

  • Plenty of petty offenders are dipping into the family coffers: the perpetual-invalid daughter who wields guilt to finance a life of leisure; the titled paterfamilias whose lucrative marriage may be either more or less than it seems; the ex-addict heir like "the prodigal son on steroids" who is eager to regain dad's good graces.

    In Brief: Mysteries

  • During his lifetime the paterfamilias was the owner of accessions made by the filius familias.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 9: Laprade-Mass Liturgy

  • The only amusement of the paterfamilias was a hunt, or a ride to the county seat in court time, where, in days when every one carried arms, there was usually some exciting event to disturb the monotony of existence -- perhaps to disturb existence itself.

    The Great South; A Record of Journeys in Louisiana, Texas, the Indian Territory, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland

  • To understand the Romans, we must remember that "paterfamilias" is not merely a free male citizen, but the head of a Roman family, the father.

    All in the Family?

  • Mr. Schmuck was an excellent "paterfamilias," and took great care of children.

    Debts of Honor

  • In Whale’s film, the frame narrative with Walton disappears, as does the monster’s narrrative; the locale moves from Geneva to a vaguely German setting (presumably Ingolstadt); and Victor’s father becomes a "baron," which is to say a paterfamilias Hollywood style, who rules over his small town and worries about his son’s postponed marriage.

    _Frankenstein_'s Cinematic Dream

  • Erin (Bridget Moynahan), who is an assistant D.A., guided nobly by abstract ideals when facing off against Frank's father, Henry (Len Cariou), who is himself a former police chief (and also the kind of paterfamilias emeritus who plays devil's advocate with the impishness of a great-grandpa playing pull-my-finger).

    Slate Magazine

  • "To defy the paterfamilias is a frightful thing, Cornelia.

    The Grass Crown

  • But he has not turned into the furious paterfamilias on questions of sex, drinking or belly-button piercing, but accepted it with remarkable pragmatism.

    He's a Tory, I'm a leftie and we're still happily married

Comments

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  • From Peter Nichols' A Voyage for Madmen (p. 36; ISBN: 978-0-06-095703-2): "Elsewhere in the paper, Chichester, the paterfamilias seadog, was quoted: 'Some of these chaps don't know what they are letting themselves in for. If any of them succeed in getting round it will be remarkable. By comparison the Atlantic is about on the level of a canoe trip across the Serpentine.' "

    May 21, 2013