ar·​bi·​ter | \ˈär-bə-tər \

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

More than a fashion moment, Beyoncé’s post provided a glowing endorsement for a candidate viewed as an arbiter of change and a reminder of those who fought to attain the right to engage in politics. Janelle Okwodu, Vogue, "Beyoncé Gives a High Fashion Shout-Out to Beto O’Rourke," 6 Nov. 2018 The ultimate arbiter in this dispute is Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Michael Khodarkovsky, WSJ, "Russia Wages a Religious War Against Ukraine," 30 Sep. 2018 President Obama in 2009, 2010 signed executive order 13526 that again affirmed the president has full authority as the final arbiter of what's classified and what's declassified. Fox News, "Graham: Democrats are trying to destroy Kavanaugh's life," 17 Sep. 2018 Warren has fundamentally taken away the right of Native nations, communities, and peoples to define themselves on their own terms, instead utilizing non-Indigenous sources to verify and be the arbiter of what is indigeneity, and who is Indigenous. Rory Taylor, Teen Vogue, "DNA Tests Are Not An Indicator of Native Identity," 19 Oct. 2018 As a responsible arbiter of information, Consumer Reports also stresses that these kinds of assists are really there for convenience and that operating them introduces new safety risks. Jonathan M. Gitlin, Ars Technica, "Consumer Reports agrees with Ars: GM Super Cruise beats Tesla Autopilot," 4 Oct. 2018 What fascinated me was that Antonio was this person who was really an arbiter of style. Laird Borrelli-persson, Vogue, "Before There Were Influencers, There Was Antonio, Illustrator Extraordinaire and Arbiter of Style," 5 Sep. 2018 The pacts didn’t give donors control over academic decisions, Cabrera wrote, and most of the documents clearly stated the university is the final arbiter of faculty appointments. Sarah Larimer, Washington Post, "George Mason University Foundation is not subject to public records laws, judge rules," 6 July 2018 So far, the arbiters of the term have been white men of privilege, but so what?, "What Americana Means (And Doesn't) In 2018: From Childish Gambino To Roseanne," 3 July 2018

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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Statistics for arbiter

Last Updated

4 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for arbiter

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

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More Definitions for arbiter


ar·​bi·​ter | \ˈär-bə-tər \

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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