tabula rasa

ta·​bu·​la ra·​sa | \ ˌta-byə-lə-ˈrä-zə How to pronounce tabula rasa (audio) , -sə\
plural tabulae rasae\ ˌta-​byə-​ˌlī-​ˈrä-​ˌzī How to pronounce tabulae rasae (audio) , -​ˌsī \

Definition of tabula rasa

1 : the mind in its hypothetical primary blank or empty state before receiving outside impressions
2 : something existing in its original pristine state

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Did You Know?

Philosophers have been arguing that babies are born with minds that are essentially blank slates since the days of Aristotle. (Later, some psychologists took up the case as well.) English speakers have called that initial state of mental blankness tabula rasa (a term taken from a Latin phrase that translates as "smooth or erased tablet") since the 16th century, but it wasn't until British philosopher John Locke championed the concept in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding in 1690 that the term gained widespread popularity in our language. In later years, a figurative sense of the term emerged, referring to something that exists in its original state and that has yet to be altered by outside forces.

Examples of tabula rasa in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Notre Dame’s site itself was no immaculate tabula rasa. Klara Glowczewska, Town & Country, "Notre Dame Cathedral Will Never Be the Same—and That's Ok," 19 Apr. 2019 Call it a digital tabula rasa where the vibes are happy and hopeful. Liana Satenstein, Vogue, "The 13 Best Fashion Instagrams of the Week: Yara Shahidi Goes Raver, Chanel Models Have Fun, and More," 5 Jan. 2019 Los Angeles interior designer Amber Lewis faced such a tabula rasa in a client’s vacation getaway, a 1960s ranch house in Ojai, Calif. Wsj Real Estate, WSJ, "Bronfman Scion Sells Bel-Air Manse for $85 Million," 8 Mar. 2018 Her underlying aim was to explore the idea—derived from John Locke—of the newborn as a tabula rasa, whose character is determined by experience rather than innate qualities. The Economist, "Frankenstein: the monster that never dies," 17 Feb. 2018 The song's rhythm bangs as, before our very eyes, this Swiftian tabula rasa transforms into some sort of android. Los Angeles Times Staff,, "A Star Is Born: Gabrielle Union turns 45 today," 29 Oct. 2017 Progressives take a tabula rasa view of the human condition, the human animal, the human experience, and human society. Kevin D. Williamson, National Review, "Our 21st-Century Second Amendment," 8 Oct. 2017 In many ways the fossils served as tabula rasa upon which artists project many other narratives. Simon Worrall, National Geographic, "Here's What We Used to Think Dinosaurs Looked Like," 2 Sep. 2017 Each season is a tabula rasa in which the accomplishments of the past have been totally erased. Larry Stone, The Seattle Times, "The Huskies open the season with their highest ranking in 20 years. Could they still be underrated?," 30 Aug. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tabula rasa.' 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 tabula rasa

1535, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for tabula rasa

Latin, smoothed or erased tablet

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Last Updated

31 May 2019

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The first known use of tabula rasa was in 1535

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