ac·​o·​lyte | \ ˈa-kə-ˌlīt How to pronounce acolyte (audio) , -kō- \

Definition of acolyte

1 : one who assists a member of the clergy in a liturgical service by performing minor duties
2 : one who attends or assists a leader : follower The mayor dined with a few of his acolytes.

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Follow the etymological path of acolyte back far enough and you'll arrive at keleuthos, a Greek noun that means "path" and that is itself the parent of akolouthos, an adjective that means "following." Akolouthos traveled from Greek, leaving offspring in Medieval Latin and Anglo-French, and its descendant, acolyte, emerged in English in the 14th century. Originally, it was exclusively a term for a person who assisted a priest at Mass, but by the 19th century acolyte had acquired additional meanings, among them "attendant body, satellite" (a meaning used in astronomy) and "attendant insect" (a zoological sense), as well as the general meaning assistant or sidekick.

Examples of acolyte in a Sentence

a popular professor dining with a few of her acolytes a highly influential economist whose acolytes can be found at many major universities
Recent Examples on the Web But the senator hasn't always been a Trump acolyte. Thomas Beaumont, Star Tribune, 9 July 2021 The actress, who has starred in eight of the nine seasons of the American Horror Story anthology series, is a longtime Ryan Murphy acolyte, having also starred in Nip/Tuck, Ratched, and The People v. O.J. Simpson. Zoe Haylock, Vulture, 22 June 2021 President Biden ought to use the election of Mr. Raisi, an acolyte of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as an opening to maintain sanctions until Iran agrees to a deal that truly restricts its weapons program and terrorist support. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 21 June 2021 But Democrats are moving quickly to define the political novice as an acolyte of the former president — a strategy designed to spark 2020-style enthusiasm and turnout without Trump actually being on the ballot. Los Angeles Times, 24 May 2021 Drew made an all-too-convincing impression as an acolyte of the Evil One., 13 May 2021 And when the acolyte comes to appreciate the same art as the instructor? Julie Belcove, Robb Report, 16 May 2021 Duque is an acolyte of the former president, a U.S. ally who fought the FARC using brutal tactics that resulted in accusations of human rights abuses. Laura Romero, ABC News, 14 May 2021 Stefanik, for example, worked in the Bush-Cheney administration and has been an acolyte of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. John Avlon, CNN, 6 May 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'acolyte.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of acolyte

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for acolyte

Middle English acolite, borrowed from Anglo-French & Medieval Latin; Anglo-French acolit, borrowed from Medieval Latin acolūthus, acolythus, acolitus, going back to Late Latin, "person assisting the priest," borrowed from Middle Greek akólouthos, going back to Greek, "following, (as noun) follower, attendant," from a- (variant, before a following aspirate consonant, of ha- "having one, having the same," going back to Indo-European sm̥-) + -kolouthos (ablaut form, in a compound, of kéleuthos "path"); akin to Greek heîs "one," homós "same" and perhaps to Greek keleúein "to direct forward, urge on" — more at same entry 1, hold entry 1

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The first known use of acolyte was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

18 Jul 2021

Cite this Entry

“Acolyte.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Jul. 2021.

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More Definitions for acolyte



English Language Learners Definition of acolyte

formal : someone who follows and admires a leader
: someone who helps the person who leads a church service

More from Merriam-Webster on acolyte

Nglish: Translation of acolyte for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of acolyte for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about acolyte


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