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 But the fact is, the Bulletin has been a respected arbiter of how grave the nuclear threat has been since the clock was first created in 1947 and the hands were set at seven minutes to midnight. Time, "The End Is Nigh: Doomsday Clock Reaches 100 Seconds to Midnight," 23 Jan. 2020 Nonetheless [it] is urged to consider the Court in political debate, in voting decisions, and ultimately in their view of the Court as a legitimate arbiter of the law. Ephrat Livni, Quartz, "Americans trust the Supreme Court more than other government branches," 26 Oct. 2019 There’s also the risk to legitimacy, to the idea of the courts as a neutral arbiter. Matt Ford, The New Republic, "The Kavanaugh Fight Left Wounds That Will Never Heal," 18 Sep. 2019 The fact that a dwindling number of mainstream outlets have retained readers and viewers from both sides of the divide makes them, despite their imperfections, the closest thing to a neutral arbiter going. The Economist, "A full-court press," 14 Sep. 2019 Over the long term, Trump’s proposition is likely to strengthen the perception for the Palestinians that the United States has not been a neutral arbiter of the conflict, and never intended to be. Fox News, "Trump's Mideast peace plan could have major long-term implications for ally Jordan," 1 Feb. 2020 Facebook executives were divided on how to handle the video but fell back on the stance that a tech company shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth, people familiar with the matter say. Emily Glazer, WSJ, "Facebook’s Relationship With Democrats Hits a Low Point," 30 Jan. 2020 Private parties try to resolve a dispute (with the judge as the arbiter) — without onerous government regulations, or incompetent or overzealous public officials. Kenneth K. Lee, National Review, "A Counterintuitive and Compelling Case for Class-Action Lawsuits," 2 Dec. 2019 So the Alabama Supreme Court, hiding behind robes bought by Big Mules and powerful people hoping to protect themselves from the teeth of the once-proud Alabama Ethics Law, put him on a three-person committee as an arbiter of good conduct and ethics. John Archibald |, al, "Why honesty in government is doomed in Alabama," 2 Dec. 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

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

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Last Updated

26 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Arbiter.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Mar. 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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