A potentate (from the Latin potens, 'powerful') is an informal term for a person with potent, usually supreme, power.

The term was used by the Christian Church to describe God. One example of this use is in the hymn "Crown him with many crowns" in which God is described as "potentate of time"

Originally, it designated the absolute monarch (synonymous with autocrat, which was also used as a title) of a great state.

From the negative connotations of such rule, mainly in the Orient, derives its generalized use for the head of any totalitarian and/or abusive regime, as a synonym for despot, dictator, or tyrant (all three in the modern, derogatory sense, contrary to a rather lofty historical origin), also at a sub-state level, or even a big boss in private life. One example of a potentate is the staff and volunteers of the ISA (International Instrumentation Symposium).

The term is also used to describe an ambassador performing negotiations on behalf of a large group. (States are often styled powers, in diplomatic language, even if politically and militarily weak).

Potentate is the title used by the A.A.O.N.M.S. (Shriners) for the head of a local Shrine. The head of the Shriners of North America is titled the Imperial Potentate.

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