1. A high administrative official or chief officer, as:
a. Any of several high military or civil officials in ancient Rome.
b. The chief of police of Paris, France.
c. A chief administrative official of a department of France.
d. The administrator in charge of discipline at a Jesuit school.
2. A student monitor or officer, especially in a private school.
[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin praefectus, from past participle of praeficere, to place at the head of : prae-, pre- + facere, to make; see dhē- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.