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 Zimmerman was an arbiter of all of the aforementioned qualities, developing mathematical formulas to help knitters perfectly size their garments, regardless of needle or yarn size. Carrie Battan, The New Yorker, "How Politics Tested Ravelry and the Crafting Community," 22 Mar. 2021 And the legislature will now serve as its own final arbiter. Joe Sonka, The Courier-Journal, "GOP sprints through 2 dozen overrides of Gov. Andy Beshear's vetoes. Here's the rundown," 30 Mar. 2021 In the case of a stalemate, courts may ultimately have to serve as the final arbiter. NBC News, "Is Temujin Kensu a 'ninja killer' or wrongfully convicted man?," 21 Mar. 2021 In physics, as in all sciences, the Universe itself is the ultimate arbiter of what’s truly real. Ethan Siegel, Forbes, "Ask Ethan: Could An Unexplained Decay At The LHC Demolish The Standard Model?," 12 Mar. 2021 Fortunately, the letter was roundly denounced for suggesting that the military should anoint itself the final arbiter of a political question by calling for the chairman to exercise unconstitutional discretion. Mackubin Owens, Washington Examiner, "Stop dragging the military into election fights," 31 Dec. 2020 An appeal of such a ruling would be filed before the 5th Circuit Court, arguably the most conservative federal appellate body in the country, and the ultimate arbiter could be the Supreme Court. Camilo Montoya-galvez, CBS News, "Despite court victories, DACA faces biggest legal test ahead of Biden presidency," 21 Dec. 2020 The Palestinians today have vastly more autonomy than the Saharawi would have in the Moroccan plan, which makes Rabat the final arbiter of Saharawi law. Eugene Kontorovich, WSJ, "The Middle East’s Dual ‘Occupations’," 17 Dec. 2020 Finally, the distant sky, not Earth, was the ultimate arbiter of where things are. Joshua Sokol, Science | AAAS, "Precise maps of millions of bright quasars show our place in the cosmos as never before," 24 Nov. 2020

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

14 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Arbiter.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Apr. 2021.

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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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