Printable Version
Pronunciation: êm-pair Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. In some sports (especially baseball), a non-player who judges and rules on plays. 2. An unbiased third-party who decides a dispute that arbiters cannot resolve.

Notes: This noun may be used 'as is' as a verb, as 'to umpire a tennis match'. We have two abstract nouns for this personal noun, umpireship "the office of an umpire" and umpirage "the act of umpiring".

In Play: The umpire in baseball stands behind the catcher and decides whether a 90-mile-an-hour pitch is in or out of the strike zone. Disagreements over a call constantly arise between batters and coaches, on the one hand, and the umpire, on the other. The batter might question a call by an umpire with: "Where's your seeing-eye dog today, ump? In the pound?"

Word History: At the beginning of the Middle English period this word was noumpere, borrowed and rearranged from Old French nonper "unequal, odd number", used to refer to an arbiter between two parties. In Middle English the phrase 'a noumpere' became 'an oumpere' by juncture misanalysis, just like 'a nadder' became 'an adder', 'a narange' became 'an orange', and 'a napron' became 'an apron' (but only after the diminutive, napkin, had taken up residence in the vocabulary). The origin of Old French per is complicated. Old French had a word paire "pair, couple", which English borrowed alongside per (English par). These French words seem to have evolved from Latin par, paris "pair, equal counterpart". Latin apparently inherited this word from one of the five PIE words, per-, probably the one that meant "trade, sell, barter". Since there are two members of all these processes that are equal in status, there is a glimmer of a semantic connection between this word and "two equals". (David Myer made the right call when he recommended today's historically fascinating Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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