• broker •
Pronunciation: bro-kêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An agent, an intermediary, an arbitrator, a contract negotiator, as a peace-broker, tea-broker, produce-broker. 2. A merchant or dealer in some service, as a pawnbroker or insurance-broker.
Notes: The activity of brokers is brokerage, a word that can also refer to an investment firm (brokerage house). The adjectives brokerly and broker-like have made it into print; their meanings are the same. The noun itself may be used as a verb, as 'to broker a peace settlement'.
In Play: Since so many (stock) brokers are currently broke—some broker than others, we thought it might be a good time to look into this word. It is more fascinating than we would expect. Of course, broker is wholly unrelated to the adjective broke, derived from an obsolete past participle of break: "William Arami and Marian Kind were introduced by a marriage broker on Wally Street."
Word History: Middle English adapted today's word from the Anglo-Norman (French spoken long ago in England) brocour, a reduction of abrocour. Brocour was too foreign for English, so it was modified to broker, a more familiar word, a process known as folk etymology. Anglo-Norman abrocour came from Spanish alboroque, a ceremonial gift given at the conclusion of a business deal. This word was adopted from Arabic al-baraka "the blessing", comprising al- "the" + baraka, "blessing, divine favor", when Arabs (Moors) controlled Spain. Barak is a common Semitic name found in the last name of Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, and the first name of US president Barack Obama. (Our editor in Israel, Paul Ogden, who has brokered many candidates in the Good Word series, was kind enough to bring the astounding history of this word to our attention.)