Word of the Day


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Origin of the word

Both the noun and the adjective emerged around 1300. The adjective principal means ‘main, dominant, chief’ and also ‘large’ or ‘great’. The Latin word ‘princeps’ meant ‘first man or leader’ while ‘principalis’ represented ‘most important’ and ‘original’. In Old French circa the 11th century, ‘principal’ referred again to ‘most important’ with the added inference of ‘high ranking, princely’.

The noun principal follows a similar route, and may have also been influenced by Old French and Latin. By the middle of the 14th century, it had taken on the business and financial sense of ‘funds or money on which interest is paid’ (4) and a century later it also indicated ‘the person in charge of a hall or college’ (3). By 1827 the latter definition came to mean ‘head of a public school’.


“In April 2001, Sir Anthony Dowell, then director of the Royal Ballet, promoted 19-year-old, Bucharest-born Alina Cojocaru to the rank of principal dancer.” – Guardian. 10th August 2010: Ten best dancers (1).

“The Ulster Orchestra is seeking to appoint a Principal Clarinet (No.2).” – Ulster Orchestra. 7th June 2017: Job advert (2).

“Our members are the vice-chancellors or principals (executive heads) of universities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.” – Universities UK. 2017: About Us — Members (3).

“In order to make the loan repayment journal entries it is necessary to split the cash payments into the principal and interest elements as they are posted to different accounts.” – Double Entry Bookkeeping. 2017: Loan Repayment — Principal and Interest (4).

“The amount of authority to deal that the agent has is subject to agreement between the principal and the agent. However, unless told otherwise, third parties can assume the agent has full powers to deal.” – Businessballs.com. 2017: Business contracts, legal terms and definitions glossary (5).


1. the main actors, singers, dancers, etc. in a performance
2. the leader of a section of an orchestra
3. the head of a college or university
4. the original amount of money that someone borrows, which is paid back with additional money called interest
5. a person or organization that has someone to represent them in business or legal matters.

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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