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

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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 The only difference between this piece and most factchecks, then, is that the latter hide behind a patina of impartiality, allowing their authors to claim to be arbiters of truth. David Harsanyi, National Review, "Factcheckers Have Become the Janissaries of the Obama Legacy," 5 Feb. 2020 But what isn’t strange about a time where the algorithms, technology executives, and legions of traumatized content moderators are the arbiters of free speech? Hanna Kozlowska, Quartz, "Should politicians get to say whatever they want on social media?," 1 Oct. 2019 Such was the case for Club Monaco's spring campaign, which teamed the two arbiters of style to capture the brand's better-than-ever fashion. Anne Monoky, Harper's BAZAAR, "Lou Doillon Models the New Club Monaco," 19 Jan. 2011 If no settlement is reached, the case goes before independent arbiters who choose either the player’s request or the team’s offer. Sam Blum, Dallas News, "Rangers avoid arbitration by reaching deals with Joey Gallo, two others," 10 Jan. 2020 The arbiters of music media and streaming services must find new ways to establish and expand their presence among music movements and cultures, especially within minority communities. Mario J. Lucero, Quartz, "Music streaming services mishandle our data—and our culture is paying for it," 3 Jan. 2020 The teamsters did not file their grievance in time, and an arbiter ruled the city did not need to pay out a settlement to the union, Bockenstedt said. Aubrey Wieber, Anchorage Daily News, "Anchorage payroll error settlements cost the city an estimated $16 million," 19 Dec. 2019 Mr Lighthizer, hardly an independent arbiter, will have the final say over whether China has broken its commitments. The Economist, "Trade truce The ceasefire in the trade war between America and China is fragile," 18 Dec. 2019 The harshest critics of the store’s new look worried that the style arbiter of NYC had become a bit Anywhere, USA. Steff Yotka, Vogue, "“Barneys Started Our Career”: Five New York Designers Remember the Department Store’s Impact as Its Fate Hangs in Limbo," 28 Oct. 2019

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.

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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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Time Traveler for arbiter

Time Traveler

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

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Last Updated

13 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Arbiter.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Feb. 2020.

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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

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More from Merriam-Webster on arbiter

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for arbiter

Spanish Central: Translation of arbiter

Nglish: Translation of arbiter for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of arbiter for Arabic Speakers

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