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What is the difference between referee, umpire and judge? How about the use of other similar words?

In sports like tennis, basketball, football and soccer, when do we use which?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The Wikipedia entry on referee has:

Officials in various sports are known by a variety of titles, including referee, umpire, judge, arbitrator, linesman, commissaire, timekeeper or touch judge.

So it's really up to the terminology used by the professional / organizational bodies in each sport.

As to your second question, there is a long list, again on the Wikipedia site. For example (my emphasis):

Baseball: In baseball and softball, the umpire is the person(s) charged with officiating the game. Multiple umpires—usually two, three or four, but sometimes six for championship games—are typically assigned to a game.

Cricket: In cricket, the match referee is an off-field official who makes judgements concerning the reputable conduct of the game and hands out penalties for breaches of the ICC Cricket Code of Conduct. On-field decisions relevant to the play and outcome of the game itself are handled by two on-field umpires, although an off-field third umpire may help with certain decisions.

American Football: An American football (or Canadian football) referee is responsible for the general supervision of the game and has the final authority on all rulings. He is assisted by up to six other officials on the field. These officials are commonly referred to as "referees" but each has a title based on position and responsibilities during the game: referee, head linesman, line judge, umpire, back judge, side judge, and field judge.

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In sports, a "referee" and an "umpire" are essentially the same thing - which term is used depends on the sport. Usually, team sports have referees, and others have umpires.

By contrast, judges in sports are the people who assign scores, and may or may not decide other scoring-related issues. For example, the referee in boxing will decide if there has been a TKO, but scores will otherwise be decided by the judges.

In legal usage, an "umpire" usually means an arbitrator who has a casting vote on a split panel of arbitrators, but who is appointed by the panel when they cannot decide unanimously (or perhaps by majority).

A referee is otherwise one who takes a reference, as under a reference procedure for dispute resolution.

A judge usually means a judicial officer appointed by the state to hear court cases. It tends to be used generically for all such appointments, and may also be a rank or designation in its own right (as in, His Honour Judge Nic Madge).

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This is a good point. It seems that referees and umpires are expected to make objective judgments to the best of their ability (was the ball caught? was the player out of bounds?) while judges are asked to make subjective decisions (how graceful was that triple axel?). –  Nate Eldredge Jun 13 at 7:02

I am under the impression the term umpire is used when there are two or more officials working in collaboration (to agree on the decision like in hockey or volleyball) whereas a referee has the overall decision and is usually working on his own with others advising him (such as in rugby or football).

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