ar·​bi·​ter | \ ˈär-bə-tər How to pronounce arbiter (audio) \

Definition of arbiter

1 : a person with power to decide a dispute : judge The mayor will act as the final arbiter in any dispute between board members.
2 : a person or agency whose judgment or opinion is considered authoritative arbiters of taste

Are arbiter and arbitration arbitrary?

A large portion of the words we use today come from Latin roots. Many of these words retain a meaning that is closely related to their Latin ancestor, although sometimes they will drift a considerable distance from their roots (sinister, for instance, had the meaning of “on the left side” in Latin, but also meant “unlucky, inauspicious”). In some instances, a single Latin word will give rise to multiple words in English, some of which have strayed in meaning, and others which have not.

An example of this may be found in our word arbiter. We trace it to the Latin root with the same spelling, arbiter, meaning “eyewitness, onlooker, person appointed to settle a dispute.” A number of English words stem from the Latin arbiter, many of which have to do with judging or being a judge. An arbiter is a judge, and arbitration is the act of judging, or serving as an arbiter. Yet the most common meaning of arbitrary is “existing or coming about seemingly at random or by chance or as a capricious and unreasonable act of will,” which seems to be quite a bit different in meaning from the other two words. Arbitrary does indeed come from the same Latin root, and its oldest meaning in English was “depending on choice or discretion particularly regarding the decision of a judge or a tribunal.” But over time it developed additional senses that are somewhat removed from that initial meaning.

Examples of arbiter in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Again, by coincidence or design, much of this film seems a response to a fandom that views the MCU as a kind of progressive moral arbiter and/or makes their fandom a defining part of their personality. Scott Mendelson, Forbes, 3 May 2022 Instead of a bank or government being the arbiter of who owns what, the blockchain allows transactions to be recorded without a central authority. Washington Post, 8 Mar. 2022 William Morgan, the former Capitol police chief and commission member, said a panel whose major function is to preserve the landmark Capitol has been asked to become an arbiter of history with no clear direction or authority from lawmakers. Mark Pazniokas,, 14 Dec. 2021 MacDonough was appointed to her post in 2012 when Democrats controlled the chamber and is respected as an even-handed arbiter of Senate rules. Compiled Democrat-gazette Staff From Wire Reports, Arkansas Online, 20 Sep. 2021 MacDonough was appointed in 2012 when Democrats controlled the chamber and is respected as an even-handed arbiter of Senate rules. Alan Fram, ajc, 20 Sep. 2021 The contract, handed down by an arbiter, also lets the police union know when any personnel files are requested by city prosecutors, the local Fraternal Order of Police said. From Usa Today Network And Wire Reports, USA TODAY, 16 Sep. 2021 An arbiter of disputes between individuals could not work very long before coming to a decision that was, in one way or another, unjust. Parker Richards, The New Republic, 17 Mar. 2022 Ward McAllister was, indeed, a real person and social arbiter during the 1890s. Elise Taylor, Vogue, 14 Mar. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'arbiter.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of arbiter

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for arbiter

Middle English arbitour, arbitre, borrowed from Anglo-French, borrowed from Latin arbiter "eyewitness, onlooker, person appointed to settle a dispute," perhaps, if going back to *ad-biteros, from ad- ad- + *-biteros, derivative from a base *-bit- akin to bītere, baetere, bētere "to go," of obscure origin

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The first known use of arbiter was in the 14th century

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Dictionary Entries Near arbiter



arbiter elegantiae

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Last Updated

8 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Arbiter.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for arbiter


ar·​bi·​ter | \ ˈär-bə-tər How to pronounce arbiter (audio) \

Legal Definition of arbiter

History and Etymology for arbiter

Latin, onlooker, arbitrator

More from Merriam-Webster on arbiter

Nglish: Translation of arbiter for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of arbiter for Arabic Speakers


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