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

Keep scrolling for more

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 Who will be the arbiter of which copies are closest to the original? Rick Prelinger, Wired, "NFTs and AI Are Unsettling the Very Concept of History," 20 Apr. 2021 Do not allow your tactless son to be your fashion arbiter. Abigail Van Buren, oregonlive, "Dear Abby: When’s the best time to share complicated family history with children?," 19 Apr. 2021 The second working group would gather materials about the Supreme Court’s role in the broader constitutional system, including as a final arbiter of major issues with a legal nexus. Charlie Savage, New York Times, "Supreme Court Commission to Scrutinize Changes Beyond Expanding Justice Seats," 15 Apr. 2021 The ultimate arbiter of this legal question may not come from the executive or legislative branches. Zack Friedman, Forbes, "Student Loan Forgiveness Review Could Lead To Student Loan Cancellation, But There’s One Problem," 6 Apr. 2021 But legislatures are the ultimate arbiter of public policy in every state. Nick Murray, Star Tribune, "Scrutinize the use of emergency powers in times of crisis," 17 Feb. 2021 When pressed by Maddow, the New York Democrat confirmed that Leahy will, in fact, still be permitted to vote on the results of the trial despite also serving as an impartial arbiter during the proceedings. Carly Roman, Washington Examiner, "Schumer: John Roberts turned down chance to preside over second Trump impeachment trial," 25 Jan. 2021 This system of administrative tribunals is the ultimate arbiter for the hundreds of thousands of people put into removal proceedings each year. Felipe De La Hoz, The New Republic, "Joe Biden Doesn’t Need the GOP’s Permission to Fix Our Broken Immigration System," 25 Dec. 2020 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

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about arbiter

Time Traveler for arbiter

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for arbiter

Last Updated

26 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Arbiter.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 May. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on arbiter

What made you want to look up arbiter? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Star Wars Words Quiz

  • cu jedi training
  • The bounty portion of bounty hunters (such as Boba Fett) comes from a Latin word meaning
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!