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

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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 The result is this year’s Fongola, the group’s striking debut album that fuses techno, punk, No Wave and Congolese jazz, a raw snapshot of pop forged outside the dictum of Western tastes and music industry trends. Andrea Domanick, Billboard, "Can Electronic Music Be Made With Metal Cans and Car Parts? Kokoko! Says Yes: Interview," 10 Oct. 2019 And while that's gospel for US users, there's some nuance to that dictum across the Atlantic. Kate Cox, Ars Technica, "Google wins case as court rules “right to be forgotten” is EU-only," 24 Sep. 2019 The dictum mostly expands or alters the executive branch’s reach on dealing with gun violence and is the first concrete policy change to come from any of the Flyover states following the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso. cleveland.com, "Worrying economic signs in the heartland point to a recession: The Flyover," 19 Aug. 2019 House leadership of course pays lip service to the idea of party unity, but in practice Democratic leaders view unity as a top-down dictum and not a consensus. Elizabeth Spiers, The New Republic, "Beyond Pelosi," 24 July 2019 The first serves as a useful counterpart to the M.F.A.’s first dictum. Hermione Hoby, The New Yorker, "What Does It Mean to Be a “Real” Writer?," 3 July 2019 Yet Kennan’s dictum applies today, when the heedless pursuit of extravagant objectives — fantasies of regime change in Tehran offering only the latest example — finds the United States mired in a condition of permanent war. Andrew J. Bacevich, Twin Cities, "Andrew Bacevich: Trump’s reluctance to bomb foreign countries is a strength, not a sign of weakness," 4 July 2019 Although Rabbi Eliezer's dictum is often quoted as a primary source for excluding women from Torah study, an analysis of the talmudic context of Rabbi Eliezer's comment could yield a different conclusion. Rabbi Avi Weiss, sun-sentinel.com, "The Sotah teaches us the true purpose of Torah learning," 10 June 2019 Fast ten, slow twenty is a dictum that breeds recklessness in damn near every other aspect of our lives. Mitchell S. Jackson, Harper's magazine, "Opportunity Cost," 10 Feb. 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.

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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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Statistics for dictum

Last Updated

26 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Dictum.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dictum. Accessed 7 December 2019.

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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

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More from Merriam-Webster on dictum

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for dictum

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with dictum

Nglish: Translation of dictum for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of dictum for Arabic Speakers

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