Retaining the Connotation of “Retinue”

By Mark Nichol

What is a retinue, and do you need one? That depends on whether you need to be retained. This post defines and discusses the term retinue and its synonyms.

Retinue, derived from the French verb retenir, meaning “retain,” or “keep,” refers to a group of associates or attendants. Originally, it applied to retainers (that word also stems from retenir), servants who attended to a person of high rank. Now, it is more likely to pertain to friends, employees, and hangers-on a celebrity surrounds himself or herself with.

Associated words include entourage, from the French verb entourer, meaning “surround”; this word is cognate with tour (a tour “surrounds” the area circumscribed by the travel route) and tourist. Then there’s cortege, from the Latin term cohors, meaning “enclosure” (and the origin of court as well as cohort), by way of the Italian verb corteggiare, meaning “court,” as in an effort to influence someone politically or romantically; cortege also refers to a parade of attendants and may apply specifically to a funeral procession.

Suite (ultimately from the Latin word sequere, meaning “follow”—and the source of sequence—by way of Old French), tail (from an Old English word meaning “lock of hair”), and train (from the Middle French verb trainer, meaning “drag” or “draw”) are also used in the sense of “those attending on an important person.” Following is another word with this connotation, though it can easily be misunderstood to apply to someone’s far-flung fan base rather than to close associates.

Two slang terms synonymous with retinue are crew (ultimately from the Latin verb crescere, meaning “grow”—and the source of crescent—by way of Middle French and later Middle English, in the sense of reinforcement), from an association with the company of sailors or other workers who conduct operations (though with the connotation of a convivial assembly), and posse.

That last word is a truncation of the Latin phrase posse comitatus, meaning “power of the county” and referring to a group of citizens deputized to assist in law enforcement or rescue. In popular culture, posse became associated with the Old West, conjuring the image of a band of men in a frontier town temporarily authorized to assist a county sheriff or a federal marshal with hunting down a fugitive outlaw. This meme inspired an association of the term with a rambunctious retinue accompanying a pop star.

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