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

Keep scrolling for more

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 Yet the fast spread of covid-19 reveals that the world largely ignored that wise dictum. The Economist, "The world after covid-19 Jared Diamond and Nathan Wolfe on the value of preparation," 10 June 2020 This dictum had applied in particular to U.S. relations with Europe. Andrew J. Bacevich, Harper's magazine, "The Old Normal," 2 Mar. 2020 The members of the Little family were pioneer black nationalists who endeavored to follow Garvey’s dictum of establishing black political power across urban and rural American landscapes. New York Times, "‘The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.,’ by Peniel E. Joseph: An Excerpt," 6 Apr. 2020 This dictum was also Mao’s military strategy for winning the civil war that broke out between the CCP and the ruling Nationalist Party (the Kuomintang, or KMT) in 1927. Julian Gewirtz, Harper's Magazine, "To Rebel Is Justified," 30 Mar. 2020 And in general, are there standards of dress that supersede any costume party dictums? Judith Martin, Washington Post, "Miss Manners: Dress code for a pajama party," 14 Dec. 2019 Meanwhile economists are increasingly willing to question the dictum set out by Milton Friedman in 1963 that inflation is a monetary phenomenon. The Economist, "Central banksHow to make economic policy fit for a world of low inflation," 10 Oct. 2019 Another was that Wilson’s dictum pointedly did not extend beyond Europe—and especially not to Africa, whose vast acreage had only recently been carved into territories. Joshua Jelly-schapiro, The New Yorker, "What Are Borders For?," 27 Nov. 2019 One of Wright’s nearly lifelong dictums was that his buildings were like shrubs and trees, growing upward, in effect, from the inside out, emerging spanking-wet and blinking their eyes to the world. Paul Hendrickson, Smithsonian, "The Prickly, Brilliant and Deeply Influential Frank Lloyd Wright," 20 Nov. 2019

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about dictum

Time Traveler for dictum

Time Traveler

The first known use of dictum was circa 1586

See more words from the same year

Statistics for dictum

Cite this Entry

“Dictum.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dictum. Accessed 20 Sep. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for dictum


How to pronounce dictum (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of dictum

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


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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on dictum

What made you want to look up dictum? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Homophone Quiz

  • three bears two of them look like theyre whispering to a third bear who looks chuffed to be the center of attention
  • In order to judge how people felt, the senator's office hired a firm to take a ______.
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!