Paul in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, has long been mystified by the title commander in chief. Why, he wonders, isn’t it commander and chief? The title commander in chief is a vestige of French military titles, specifically the construction en chef, which denotes the top officer of a group of similar officers. The same construction appears in the title editor in chief, which is the top editor of a group of similar editors. The French term, in turn, goes back to Latin caput, or “head,” and is a relative of capital. This is part of a complete episode.
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