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cen·ter (sĕntər)
1. A point or place that is equally distant from the sides or outer boundaries of something; the middle: the center of a stage.
a. A point equidistant from the vertices of a regular polygon.
b. A point equidistant from all points on the circumference of a circle or on the surface of a sphere.
3. A point around which something rotates or revolves: The sun is the center of our solar system.
4. A part of an object that is surrounded by the rest; a core: chocolates with soft centers.
a. A place where a particular activity or service is concentrated: a medical center.
b. A point of origin, as of influence, ideas, or actions: a center of power; a center of unrest.
c. An area of dense population: a metropolitan center.
6. A person or thing that is the chief object of attention, interest, activity, or emotion.
7. A person, object, or group occupying a middle position.
8. often Center A political group or a set of policies representing a moderate view between those of the right and the left.
9. Physiology A group of neurons in the central nervous system that control a particular function: the vasomotor center.
a. Sports A player who holds a middle position on the field, court, or forward line in some team sports, such as hockey and basketball.
b. Football An offensive lineman who snaps the ball to begin a play, usually positioned in the middle of the line.
c. Baseball Center field.
a. A small conical hole made in a piece of work with a center punch so that a drill can be accurately positioned within it.
b. A bar with a conical point used to support work, as during turning on a lathe.
12. Architecture
a. A centering.
b. A point in space equidistant from all the points on an arch or on a portion of an arch.
v. cen·tered, cen·ter·ing, cen·ters
1. To place in or at the center: centered the vase on the table.
2. To direct toward a center or central point; concentrate or focus: tried to center the discussion on the main issues.
3. Sports
a. To pass (a ball or puck) toward the center of a playing area.
b. To play as a center on (a line), as in ice hockey.
4. Football To hike (the ball) to begin a down.
1. To be concentrated; cluster: The epidemic centered in the urban areas.
2. To have a central theme or concern; be focused: Her novels center on the problems of adolescence.
3. Sports To play as a center.

[Middle English centre, from Old French, from Latin centrum, from Greek kentron, center of a circle, from kentein, to prick; see kent- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]

Usage Note: As a verb center can represent various relations involving having, finding, or turning about a center. The choice of a preposition to accompany center depends on the meaning one wants to convey. For certain physical uses, the Usage Panel favors in more than at. In our 1996 ballot, 73 percent found in acceptable, but only 23 percent accepted at in the sentence The company has been centered (in/at) Atlanta for the last five years. · In figurative contexts, there is ample evidence for center in, on, upon, and around. In our 2006 survey, for example, 91 percent of the Panel accepted center on in the sentence The discussion centered on the need for curriculum reform. Some language critics have denounced center around as illogicalif something is in the center, after all, it cannot be "around" something else. Nonetheless, 71 percent of the Usage Panel accepted center around in the 1996 survey, suggesting that, logical or not, center around must be considered a standard idiom. But if the expression does not seem a comfortable fit, revolve around offers itself as a substitute that clearly evokes an orbiting body. See Usage Note at equal.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.