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1. a large group of families that are related to each other, especially in Scotland

2. a group of people who share an interest or aim

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The word clan comes from a Gaelic word meaning ‘family’. It was first used in English in the 15th century with the first meaning above, while the extended meaning came soon after, in the early part of the 16th century.


The term clan refers strictly speaking to a group of people descended from a common ancestor and living in the Scottish Highlands, although the term was quickly extended to those living both in the Lowlands of Scotland and in other countries. The Scottish clans were associated with particular areas of the country; led by a chief they provided social and political organization at a time when central government was remote and often weak. Writers of the 18th and early 19th centuries, in particular Walter Scott, did much to popularize the romantic view of the clans that persists today.


“It has now become the doctrine of a large clan of politicians that political honesty is unnecessary, slow, subversive of a man’s interests, and incompatible with quick onward movement.”
(Anthony Trollope)

Related words

dynasty, tribe, unit

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

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