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 For many in policymaking circles, the pandemic is a tabula rasa, a moment to rethink the status quo of transportation and development dominated by the car. Aarian Marshall, Wired, "A Lawmaker Wants Fast Trains to Rev Up the US Economy," 19 May 2020 That’s life: the tabula rasa, rarely so clean to begin with, gets quickly soiled. Vinson Cunningham, The New Yorker, "“Medea” and “Mac Beth” Reflect Modern Tragedies," 3 Feb. 2020 Error 0: And now's your shot at a tabula rasa-fresh start for free: this month, Eraser Clinic's 10 Texas locations, as well as sibling company The Finery, will offer completely complimentary tattoo-removal services on ring fingers. Darla Guillen Gilthorpe, Houston Chronicle, "Tattoo removal company in Texas offering free services to erase ex-loves," 12 Feb. 2020 For many Americans, New Year’s Day means a new set of resolutions, a slight headache, and a refreshing tabula rasa. Aarian Marshall, Wired, "Want a Tax Credit for Buying an Electric Vehicle? Move Fast," 18 Dec. 2019 The young men and women demonstrators, when speaking to both local and foreign journalists, sometimes speak of their desire for a tabula rasa. Edwidge Danticat, The New Yorker, "Demonstrators in Haiti Are Fighting for an Uncertain Future," 10 Oct. 2019 Voluminous white shirt-dresses served as a tabula rasa, a blank canvas, which Piccioli then adorned with delicate gold jewelry, such as a round necklace with a figurative bird pendant. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Valentino channels powerful simplicity in Paris show," 29 Sep. 2019 Keeping the tabula rasa in mind for the reader’s progress through the book. Ryan Chapman, Longreads, "‘Nobody in This Book Is Going to Catch a Break’: Téa Obreht on “Inland”," 28 Aug. 2019 With uproarious derisiveness yet also empathetic warmth, Jarmusch borrows a small but solid batch of horror-movie tropes to evoke an existential tabula rasa with (almost) no way out. Paige Williams, The New Yorker, "“The Dead Don’t Die,” Reviewed: Jim Jarmusch’s Fiercely Political Zombie Comedy," 14 June 2019

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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The first known use of tabula rasa was in 1535

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Cite this Entry

“Tabula rasa.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Sep. 2020.

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