dictum

noun
dic·​tum | \ ˈdik-təm How to pronounce dictum (audio) \
plural dicta\ ˈdik-​tə How to pronounce dictum (audio) \ also dictums

Definition of dictum

1 : a noteworthy statement: such as
a : a formal pronouncement of a principle, proposition, or opinion awaiting the king's dictum
b : an observation intended or regarded as authoritative must follow the dictum "First, do no harm"
2 law : a judge's expression of opinion on a point other than the precise issue involved in determining a case

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How to Use Dictum in Law and Beyond

The word dictum is frequently used in philosophy, but also in economics, political science, and other fields. Almost any condensed piece of wisdom—"The perfect is the enemy of the good", "Buy low, sell high", "All politics is local", etc.—can be called a dictum. In the law, judges may often add to a written opinion an obiter dictum, or "statement made in passing"—a strong statement that isn't directly relevant to the case being decided. If they're well thought out and eloquent, obiter dicta (notice the plural form) may be referred to by later judges and lawyers for years afterward.

Examples of dictum in a Sentence

A doctor must follow the dictum of “First, do no harm.”
Recent Examples on the Web Tellingly, Müller is better able to document how this dictum has been violated in recent political campaigns than to cite instances when it has been observed. Jordan Michael Smith, The New Republic, 12 Aug. 2021 The political equivalent is the dictum that the party that controls the White House is doomed to lose congressional seats in every off-year election. Walter Shapiro, The New Republic, 16 Aug. 2021 Even in the calmer times of the mid-20th century, when Drucker formulated his dictum, such internal confusion was sufficiently problematic that an alternative had to be found. Steve Denning, Forbes, 23 June 2021 Tellingly, Müller is better able to document how this dictum has been violated in recent political campaigns than to cite instances when it has been observed. Jo Livingstone, The New Republic, 6 Aug. 2021 Tellingly, Müller is better able to document how this dictum has been violated in recent political campaigns than to cite instances when it has been observed. Chris Lehmann, The New Republic, 28 July 2021 This dictum was coined by the French philosopher René Descartes in demonstrating his existence. Cyrus Hadavi, Forbes, 5 May 2021 Drucker’s dictum is even more relevant in the strenuously competitive marketplace of the 21st century, where customers have multiple options at their fingertips, and instant reliable information about those options. Steve Denning, Forbes, 23 June 2021 Wilkinson’s book helps make sense of that apparently nonsensical dictum. Catherine Nicholson, The New York Review of Books, 15 June 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'dictum.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of dictum

circa 1586, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for dictum

borrowed from Latin, "utterance, order, promise, saying, witticism," noun derivative from neuter of dictus, past participle of dīcere "to talk, speak, say, utter" — more at diction

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Time Traveler for dictum

Time Traveler

The first known use of dictum was circa 1586

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Dictionary Entries Near dictum

Dictograph

dictum

dictum de omni et nullo

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Statistics for dictum

Last Updated

17 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Dictum.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dictum. Accessed 20 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for dictum

dictum

noun

English Language Learners Definition of dictum

: a statement or well-known remark that expresses an important idea or rule

dictum

noun
dic·​tum | \ ˈdik-təm How to pronounce dictum (audio) \
plural dicta\ -​tə How to pronounce dictum (audio) \

Legal Definition of dictum

: a view expressed by a judge in an opinion on a point not necessarily arising from or involved in a case or necessary for determining the rights of the parties involved

called also obiter dictum

— compare holding, judgment, precedent, stare decisis

Note: Dicta have persuasive value in making an argument, but they are not binding as precedent.

History and Etymology for dictum

Latin, utterance, from neuter of dictus, past participle of dicere to say

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