I don't know exactly why this one came up for me the other day. It just occurred to me that I have no idea where this word came from. It has that pronunciation link to empire and so to emperor, but is that really the background?
I am almost positive this has Roman roots, though. We shall see.
Roman roots, yes, but not of the kind I thought. It isn't a corruption of some ancient Roman term for an adjudicator. The English word was originally noumper, which came from the Old French nonper, (from Latin par--I told you Rome was involved) which means "not even" or "not equal" --so, the one who arbitrates between two others, the non peer.
Umpire then, is one of those interesting mistake kind of words. It shares this particular mistake with words like adder (Old English næddre) and auger (Middle English nauger), because people hearing the phrase as " a noumpere" thought of it as "an oumpere". This, in the linguistic game, is what is known as "faulty separation". Such diverse things as aprons, nicknames, and humble pie all suffer from the same sort of misapprehension.
Umpires weren't always about sports, though. Originally, the word comes from the legal world. In fact, it is still used in U.S. law today to refer to arbitrators in legal arbitration, largely in labor disputes. It came into sporting vernacular, or at least into printed mention, in 1719. The sport?
|Michiel Sweerts' Wrestling Match, 1649|