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

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 The Supreme Council of the National Economy, located in Moscow, set dictums and edicts, determined priorities and values. Niree Noel, Allure, "The Evolution of Armenia’s Beauty Industry, According to Women Who Witnessed It," 27 July 2018 Over the past few months, his team has released a blueprint that floated various ideas, although none expressly included a dictum that drug companies would lower prices. Ed Silverman, STAT, "He can shame Pfizer and others, but Trump doesn’t have a practical way to lower drug prices," 9 July 2018 In the process of leaning on a tech dictum that prioritizes asking for forgiveness rather than permission, tech companies often rile up city officials, activists and citizens. Jessica Guynn, USA TODAY, "In the Scooter Wars of 2018, it's not really about the scooters," 21 June 2018 The cellphone dictum and ticket policies are militantly enforced. Gary D'amato, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "D'Amato: What makes Masters special? A million things, big and small," 4 Apr. 2018 Another master of Middle East affairs, the late literary critic Edward W. Said, described Dr. Lewis as a peddler of old-school dictums about the need for a strong guiding hand with the region. Brian Murphy, Washington Post, "Bernard Lewis, eminent historian of the Middle East, dies at 101," 19 May 2018 Few of us are likely to agree with her dictum that photography is best practiced as a purely objective art that makes no concession to inwardness or interiority. Deborah Solomon, New York Times, "Berenice Abbott: She Was a Camera," 1 June 2018

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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Statistics for dictum

Last Updated

25 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for dictum

The first known use of dictum was circa 1586

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More Definitions for dictum



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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with dictum

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for dictum

Nglish: Translation of dictum for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of dictum for Arabic Speakers

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).


to take the place or position of

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