Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Determined by chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle: stopped at the first motel we passed, an arbitrary choice.
  • adj. Based on or subject to individual judgment or preference: The diet imposes overall calorie limits, but daily menus are arbitrary.
  • adj. Established by a court or judge rather than by a specific law or statute: an arbitrary penalty.
  • adj. Not limited by law; despotic: the arbitrary rule of a dictator.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Based on individual discretion or judgment; not based on any objective distinction, perhaps even made at random.
  • adj. Determined by impulse rather than reason; heavy-handed.
  • adj. Any and all possible.
  • adj. Determined by independent arbiter.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Depending on will or discretion; not governed by any fixed rules
  • adj. Exercised according to one's own will or caprice, and therefore conveying a notion of a tendency to abuse the possession of power.
  • adj. Despotic; absolute in power; bound by no law; harsh and unforbearing; tyrannical.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Not regulated by fixed rule or law; determinable as occasion arises; subject to individual will or judgment; discretionary.
  • In law, properly determinable by the choice or pleasure of a tribunal, as distinguished from that which should be determined according to settled rules or the relative rights or equities of the parties.
  • Uncontrolled by law; using or abusing unlimited power; despotic; tyrannical.
  • Not characterized by or manifesting any overruling principle; fixed, determined, or performed at will; independent of rule or control.
  • Ungoverned by reason; hence, capricious; uncertain; unreasonable; varying; changeful: as, an arbitrary character.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. based on or subject to individual discretion or preference or sometimes impulse or caprice

Etymologies

Middle English arbitrarie, from Latin arbitrārius, from arbiter, arbitr-, arbiter; see arbiter.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English arbitrarie, Latin arbitrarius ("arbitrary, uncertain"), from arbiter ("witness, on-looker, listener, judge, overseer") (Wiktionary)

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