Entries linking to centre
late 14c., "middle point of a circle; point round which something revolves," from Old French centre (14c.), from Latin centrum "center," originally the fixed point of the two points of a drafting compass (hence "the center of a circle"), from Greek kentron "sharp point, goad, sting of a wasp," from kentein "stitch," from PIE root *kent- "to prick" (source also of Breton kentr "a spur," Welsh cethr "nail," Old High German hantag "sharp, pointed").
The spelling with -re was popularized in Britain by Johnson's dictionary (following Bailey's), though -er is older and was used by Shakespeare, Milton, and Pope. Meaning "the middle of anything" attested from 1590s. Figuratively, "point of concentration" (of power, etc.) is from 1680s. Political use, originally in reference to France, "representatives of moderate views" (between left and right) is from 1837. Center of gravity is recorded from 1650s. Center of attention is from 1868.
word-ending that sometimes distinguish British from American English. In the U.S., the change from -re to -er (to match pronunciation) in words such as fibre, centre, theatre began in late 18c. and became standard there over the next 25 years at the urging of Noah Webster (the 1804 edition of his speller, and especially his 1806 dictionary). The -re spelling, like -our, however, had the authority of Johnson's dictionary behind it and was unmoved in Britain, where it came to be a point of national pride, contra the Yankees.
Despite Webster's efforts, -re was retained in words with -c- or -g- (such as ogre, acre, the latter of which Webster insisted to the end of his days ought to be aker, and it was so printed in editions of the dictionary during his lifetime). The -re spelling generally is more justified by conservative etymology, based on French antecedents. It is met today in the U.S. only in Theatre as an element in the proper names of entertainment showplaces, where it is perhaps felt to inspire a perception of bon ton.
updated on August 18, 2010