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

This is perhaps the biggest reason wins and losses cannot be the arbiter of success. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Analysis: Andy Green’s status among Padres storylines to watch over final third of season," 2 Aug. 2019 Another local writer, unaware of Ballmer’s import, stepped forward as a neutral arbiter and asked the former Microsoft CEO to vacate. Ben Golliver, The Denver Post, "Analysis: Kawhi Leonard’s Clippers are the envy of the NBA, but hold off on the coronation," 11 July 2019 Under Brazil’s constitution of 1988, judges are supposed to be neutral arbiters. The Economist, "Brazil’s Lava Jato corruption investigation could self-destruct," 15 June 2019 If a tenant has failed to pay, or violates the rules of a lease, the court is the arbiter, and if eviction is warranted, that’s where it will be granted. Michael K. Mcintyre,, "Court-appointed lawyers for poor tenants in housing cases level the playing field: Michael K. McIntyre," 25 Aug. 2019 Fans booed the arbiter; the video was viewed almost 4 million times. Gary Peterson, The Mercury News, "Dog days are a good thing for A’s Triple-A team and its four-legged bat boy," 2 Aug. 2019 Pelosi brokered the deal with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who Democrats and even some Republicans had seen as the best arbiter for a compromise. Erica Werner, The Denver Post, "Trump backs two-year budget deal that boosts spending, suspends debt limit," 22 July 2019 The past five years have seen the South Korean capital rise to become a real arbiter of style and a biannual destination for editors, buyers, and influencers from around the world. Monica Kim, Vogue, "The 5 Designers to Know From Seoul Fashion Week Fall 2019," 29 Mar. 2019 When Huffine asked about who influences her, Kardashian West deferred to her famous personal fashion arbiter, husband Kanye West. Halie Lesavage, Glamour, "Kim Kardashian Says She's 'Shocked' to Win CFDA Award Since She's 'Naked Most of the Time'," 4 June 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

11 Sep 2019

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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 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

Comments on arbiter

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to spread over or through

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