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 tabula rasa (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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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 And yet, despite these decidedly unglamorous associations, the messenger bag feels like a tabula rasa for the return to the office. Liana Satenstein, Vogue, 9 Aug. 2021 There’s no tabula rasa, no matter what John Locke may tell you. Dominic Pino, National Review, 3 July 2021 Thackray is not asking anyone to trade in their Strad for a slim-olin—one, after all, is not like the other—but, rather, to posit that the violin can be a tabula rasa for gleeful, impractical experimentation. Jennifer Gerste, The New Yorker, 2 July 2021 Chris Lynn, a landscape architect with AECOM, introduced Thursday’s discussion by displaying a provocative image of Cleveland’s downtown lakefront with a 50-acre tabula rasa in place of the stadium. Steven Litt, cleveland, 3 June 2021 Anyone who can’t envision a transformation of that tabula rasa isn’t trying very hard. Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle, 29 May 2021 This process, called the tabula rasa, or blank slate, wipes their minds clean of learned prejudices, greed, and hate, as well as memories of their personal lives and connections with others. Catherine Gaugh Writer, San Diego Union-Tribune, 23 May 2021 The pandemic eliminated many commutes, took cars off the roads, and felt, at times, like a transportation tabula rasa. Aarian Marshall, Wired, 11 Mar. 2021 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, 19 May 2020

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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Last Updated

17 Aug 2021

Cite this Entry

“Tabula rasa.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Sep. 2021.

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