1. Sociology.
    1. an endogamous and hereditary social group limited to persons of the same rank, occupation, economic position, etc., and having mores distinguishing it from other such groups.
    2. any rigid system of social distinctions.
  2. Hinduism. any of the social divisions into which Hindu society is traditionally divided, each caste having its own privileges and limitations, transferred by inheritance from one generation to the next; jati.Compare class(def 13).
  3. any class or group of society sharing common cultural features: low caste; high caste.
  4. social position conferred upon one by a caste system: to lose caste.
  5. Entomology. one of the distinct forms among polymorphous social insects, performing a specialized function in the colony, as a queen, worker or soldier.


  1. of, relating to, or characterized by caste: a caste society; a caste system; a caste structure.


    1. any of the four major hereditary classes, namely the Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya, and Sudra into which Hindu society is dividedSee also Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya, Sudra
    2. Also called: caste systemthe system or basis of such classes
    3. the social position or rank conferred by this system
  1. any social class or system based on such distinctions as heredity, rank, wealth, profession, etc
  2. the position conferred by such a system
  3. entomol any of various types of specialized individual, such as the worker, in social insects (hive bees, ants, etc)

1550s, “a race of men,” from Latin castus “chaste,” from castus “cut off, separated; pure” (via notion of “cut off” from faults), past participle of carere “to be cut off from” (and related to castration), from PIE *kas-to-, from root *kes- “to cut” (cf. Latin cassus “empty, void”). Originally spelled cast in English and later often merged with cast (n.) in its secondary sense “sort, kind, style.”

Application to Hindu social groups was picked up by English in India 1610s from Portuguese casta “breed, race, caste,” earlier casta raça, “unmixed race,” from the same Latin word. The current spelling of of the English word is from this reborrowing. Caste system is first recorded 1840.

  1. A specialized group carrying out a specific function within a colony of social insects. For example, in an ant colony, members of the caste of workers forage for food outside the colony or tend eggs and larvae, while the members of the caste of soldiers, often larger with stronger jaws, are responsible for defense of the colony.

One of the four hereditary social divisions in Hinduism. Members of any one caste are restricted in their choice of occupation and may have only limited association with members of other castes.

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