Printable Version
Pronunciation: dee-bayt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To engage in a formal argument (debate), usually involving two sides presenting opposing views. 2. To argue a point informally from different perspectives.

Notes: Today's Good Word is topical since the last of the US presidential debates takes place tonight. Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump are the debaters this year. This noun has two adjectives, the now rarely used debative, and (un)debatable, as in, "It is debatable who will win tonight's debate, but undebatable that it will take place."

In Play: I discussed the difference between debate, argue, and quarrel in the Language Blog. There, I described a debate as a formal argument between two or more sides based on logic and fact. A quarrel, however, is an unreasonable and unreasoned match between two people whose minds can't be changed. The winner of a quarrel is decided by who screams loudest or who gives up and leaves. A debate, however, need not be between two people: "I'm debating (in my mind) whether to watch the debates; I'm afraid they will just confuse me more."

Word History: In Middle English this word was debaten from Old French debatre (débattre in Modern French), comprising de- "down, completely" + battre "to beat". English borrowed this form from French for our batter and battery "beating". The root of this word has been around for a long time. We see it in Old Russian bat "oak stick", Irish bat "cudgel, and in Sanskrit btati "hit, beat". Latin must have borrowed it from a Germanic language, for the presumable Proto-Indo-European root it should have come from, bhat-, would have become fat- in Latin. Yet there it is, Latin battuere, which converted itself by Late Latin to battere.

Dr. Goodword,

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