• A professional who calculates the risk of events such as disasters and accidents and advises companies how to act accordingly
  • (Formerly) A bookkeeper or clerk


How likely is it that you'll crash your car, or that your home will suffer water damage within the next year? Such questions form the daily thoughts of an actuary. An actuary is an expert in risk management, a white-collar professional who calculates the probabilities of events and estimates possible impacts. By making use of statistical techniques and considering all the factors involved in a situation, actuaries divide the future into a set of predictions, each with a certain probability. They usually work either as consultants to or directly for franchises and companies, where their calculations are useful in planning and decision-making. Insurance companies in particular rely heavily on the work of actuariesΒΈ using their risk-analyses to decide how much to charge for premiums and how to match plans to individuals (explaining why, for instance, your middle-aged father would pay much less to insure his sedan than your nineteen year-old cousin pays for his crimson Ford Mustang). However, actuaries frequently advise organizations of all kinds, from professional sports teams to soda companies to public school districts.

Unfortunately, the word actuary sometimes carries a negative connotation. Various stereotypes have pegged actuaries as being by turns cold and detached, concerned only with numbers, and at times even somewhat malicious. However, like most stereotypes, these assumptions are usually untrue, and do a disservice to an integral profession. Although there are, of course, probably some actuaries who do reflect these unsavory characteristics, most are friendly, hard-working, and eager to answer the questions of lexicographers!

A secondary usage of actuary is as a generic term to describe a bookkeeper, clerk, or other administrative worker. Once quite popular, this meaning is now extremely rare, and it is precariously close to falling right out of use. Alas, such is the risk of a word in the ever-changing English language.

Example: Encouraged by the actuary's positive feasibility report, the Library Board decided to move forward with the construction of a new branch.

Example: Using information about location, structural components, and weather patterns, the actuary was able predict the likelihood that the house would experience storm damage.


Actuary stems from the Latin term actuarius, meaning "an accountant or record-keeper." From here, the word flowed naturally into the English language, first appearing in dialogue during the 1550s to refer a clerk or other administrative professional. Actuary was first used as a term for a calculator of risks for insurance purposes in the mid-1800s, and it has since expanded to encompass any expert in probability-management.

Derivative Words

Actuarial is an adjective that describes something as being associated with statistics and probability

Example: Although no one can say for sure whether it will rain tomorrow, meteorologists can give an actuarial forecast.

In Literature

From Charles Dickens' Hunted Down: The Detective Stories of Charles Dickens:

"O, to be sure!" said I. "Yes! Mr. Meltham, the young actuary of the 'Inestimable.'"

Here, actuary refers to a young, upstart insurance worker whose reputation precedes him.


  • An actuary tells you the risk that something will actually happen!


Perhaps aware of some of the negative stereotypes they face, actuaries have cleverly formed their own thriving, self-deprecating brand of humor. An example of actuarial humor:

Two actuaries are duck hunting. They see a duck in the air and they both shoot. The first actuary's shot is 20 feet wide to the left. The second actuary's shot is 20 feet wide to the right. The actuaries give each other high fives.



Insurance, Statistics, Probabilities, Prediction

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of actuary. Did you use actuary in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.