con·​tes·​ta·​tion ˌkän-ˌte-ˈstā-shən How to pronounce contestation (audio)

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The Latin phrase lītem contestārī can be translated as "to join issue in a legal suit," which in layperson's terms means to reach the point in a lawsuit when it's clear to the parties involved what the exact nature of the dispute is. Lītem contestārī is the probable ultimate source of both contestation and contest, the latter having first come to English as a verb meaning "to make the subject of dispute, contention, or battle." But while contest has gone on to have a life at home in another part of speech and in contexts ranging from sports to art, contestation continues to dwell mainly in serious speech and writing about adversarial dynamics between groups of people.

Examples of contestation in a Sentence

the statement is certainly open to contestation among reasonable people
Recent Examples on the Web This border contestation, mixed with Islamabad’s fears of Kabul backing Pashtun nationalist causes within Pakistan, has long undermined the trust between the two countries. Aqil Shah, Foreign Affairs, 9 Jan. 2024 The country’s recent poll should be viewed in the context of flawed democracies that go through the motions of political contestation without fully embracing freedom, fairness, and transparency. David E Kiwuwa, Quartz Africa, 4 Nov. 2020 At first glance, the row between China and the NBA may seem like small potatoes: a tiny example of how the U.S.-Chinese relationship is now more defined by contestation than by close economic partnership. Victor Cha, Foreign Affairs, 14 Dec. 2022 Rebellion is an important part of everyday political contestation, and Jordanians have used it often and with surprising effectiveness. Jillian Schwedler, Foreign Affairs, 20 Dec. 2022 These essays together offer a thorough and sophisticated examination of the political change and contestation that has shaped the decade after the uprisings in 2011, from Algeria to Sudan. Lisa Anderson, Foreign Affairs, 28 Feb. 2023 As a case in point, the recent British referendum over the United Kingdom’s membership in the EU was a reckless gamble that took a very real issue—the need for more open and legitimate contestation in the EU—and turned it into a political grotesquerie of shamelessly opportunistic political elites. Kathleen R. McNamara, Foreign Affairs, 28 June 2016 This was before there was really a sense that his contestation of the election results would go for so long. Tyler Foggatt, The New Yorker, 17 June 2023 Each is preparing itself for strategic rivalry, building up military forces, and aligning partners for future economic, diplomatic, and potential military contestation. John Culver; John Pomfret and Matt Pottinger, Foreign Affairs, 6 June 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'contestation.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from Middle French, "dispute, debate," earlier, "joinder of issue in law," probably borrowed from Old Occitan contestacion, borrowed from Latin contestātiōn-, contestātiō, from Latin (lītem) contestārī "to join issue in a legal suit" + -tiōn-, -tiō, suffix of verbal action — more at contest entry 1

First Known Use

1580, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of contestation was in 1580


Dictionary Entries Near contestation

Cite this Entry

“Contestation.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Feb. 2024.

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