Final Word

Maybe umpire in the empire need a referee


It is test cricket time between England, once the core state of the British empire, of which South Africa was a periphery state, and the umpires might have the teams which there was a referee around.

Of the three terms mentioned here – empire, umpire, and referee – the empire has by far the more interesting history and roots, but small wonder that the players on the pitch would be more interested in the umpires, and at times which there was a referee with whom they can lodge a dispute on an umpire’s decision. After all umpires do, sometimes, make mistake.

It just so happens that, in the case of umpires, the ‘tradition’ of mistakes goes right back to the creation of the term in the 14th century. But more about that later. Let’s first look at the origin of the three terms individually


This term arrived in English in the 14th century from French, spelled the same, where it arrived in the 11th century from the Latin word, imperium, meaning "a rule, a command; authority, control, power; supreme power, sole dominion; military authority; and dominion or realm."

The Latin word, in turn, was formed from the word imperare, meaning "to command," by assimilation of en ("in") and parare, meaning "to order.”

The lineage of the term started with the Roman ruler Caesar Augustus. He was the adopted son of the great Roman general and ruler Julius Caesar. Augustus took the term imperator, meaning “commander” as his title. The original title ceasar, meaning "majesty," he made part of his family name.

From Caesar we also got kaiser in German and czars in Russian, after later emperors of Rome also used the name Caesar to show that they were heirs to the throne.

As the Romans conquered other territories, that collection of states became known as an empire and to this day the primary definition of empire is give as a political construct in which one state dominates over another state, or a series of states. At its heart, an empire is ruled by an emperor, even though many states in history without an emperor at their head, are called "empires".

Over time the term migrated to other spheres of society and sectors of the economy, to describe dominating entities or organisations, from mining conglomerates to fashion houses.


While the umpire on the cricket pitch, is the one that makes the important decisions – you are in or out – like the emperor in the empire of old, the term umpire comes to us from a somewhat different source.

But first, its dictionary definition: “one having authority to decide finally a controversy or question between parties”; “an impartial third party chosen to arbitrate disputes arising under the terms of an agreement”; and “an official in a sport who rules on plays.”

The term dates to the middle 14th century, arriving originally in Middle English as umpere as a variant of noumpere from Old French’s nomper, meaning ‘not one of a pair’ or odd number, like in three of third.

And, it is right here where the tradition of umpire mistakes starts. Our sources inform us that the English word was formed “by mistaken division from the French noumpere.” This is an example of a linguistic process known as false splitting or juncture loss. That guy who puts his finger in the air behind the stumps, by rights should have been called a nump.

Nevertheless, umpire became term for a third person to arbitrate between two parties locked in dispute, and was originally used as a legal term and only first recorded in a sporting context in 1714 in connection to the sport of wrestling.


Like is the case with the umpire, the term referee also really started out as a legal term for someone to whom something is referred, especially for decision or settlement – thus as a synonym for arbitrator.

In the sport context, it is given the dictionary definition of “a judge having functions fixed by the rules of the game or sport” -  thus as a synonym for umpire.

The term was first recorded around 1605- 15 in legal context as a person selected by a court to take testimony in a case and return it to the court with recommendations as to the decision. By 1620 it was used for a person who examined patent applications, and it arrived in a sporting context during the early 19th century.

The word arrived in Middle English from Old French’s referrer, and originally from Latin’s referre, meaning ‘to carry back, to report, to notify.’

All said, the person in modern cricket, called a third umpire, who holds up the actual game for some virtual video games, before a final decision is made on the field of actual play, should be called a final referee.

by Piet Coetzer

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Final Word

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