The word caste was originally associated with India's traditional system of hereditary and rigidly stratified classes, but this noun can now be used to refer to any social group distinguished by shared characteristics, such as rank, economic wealth, or profession.
The root of caste is the Latin castus, which means "chaste" or "pure, separated." The word arrived in English through the Portuguese casta, which means "race" or "lineage," and was first used in the 1700s in reference to Hinduism's system of social stratification. By the nineteenth century, though, this noun was used metaphorically to describe any type of group that resembled this, as in the example, "Some sought to abolish the privileges enjoyed by an elite caste of business and financial leaders."
n (Hinduism) a hereditary social class among Hindus; stratified according to ritual purity
(Hinduism) a Hindu caste or distinctive social group of which there are thousands throughout India; a special characteristic is often the exclusive occupation of its male members (such as barber or potter)