One of the things that is remarkable about mediocre is the extent to which it has retained its meaning over the course of more than four centuries of continual use. The word, when used as an adjective, has changed very little, if at all, in its meaning since it was used in a 1586 book titled The English Secretorie (our earliest known evidence): “Mediocre, a meane betwixt high and low, vehement and slender, too much and too little as we saye. . . .”
The word comes to English via Middle French from the Latin word mediocris, meaning "of medium size, moderate, middling, commonplace," and perhaps originally "halfway to the top." The noun form of mediocre is mediocrity.
Did You Know?
People interested in words always point out that mediocrity doesn't mean quite what its main root would indicate: Why doesn't it describe something that's right in the middle of the pack, exactly what you would expect? Instead the words mediocrity and mediocre always suggest disappointment. A mediocre play is one you wish you hadn't wasted an evening on, and the mediocre actor in it should probably find another profession. A person can even be called a mediocrity, though it isn't very nice and you'd never do it to his face.
Examples of mediocrity in a Sentence
We were disappointed by the mediocrity of the wine.
He thought that he was a brilliant artist himself and that all his fellow painters were just mediocrities.
These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'mediocrity.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.
Middle English mediokerte, mediocrite "moderation, medium size or amount," borrowed from Middle French & Latin; Middle French mediocrité "intermediate state," borrowed from Latin mediocritāt-, mediocritās "moderateness of size or amount, intermediate character, limited ability," from mediocris "of medium size, moderate, mediocre" + -itāt-, -itās-ity