dic·​tum ˈdik-təm How to pronounce dictum (audio)
plural dicta ˈdik-tə How to pronounce dictum (audio) also dictums
: a noteworthy statement: such as
: a formal pronouncement of a principle, proposition, or opinion
awaiting the king's dictum
: an observation intended or regarded as authoritative
must follow the dictum "First, do no harm"
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 Another important principle, then, revives Hamilton’s dictum that the means must be proportioned to the mischief. Hal Brands, Foreign Affairs, 20 Feb. 2024 But the 25th World Scout Jamboree, taking place as South Korea endures unusually hot weather, has prompted criticism of the event’s organizers, including scouting organization officials and the national government, for their seeming failure to follow that dictum. John Yoon, BostonGlobe.com, 5 Aug. 2023 The Inquisitor’s dictum that humanity needs a strongman who will provide material security and mass spectacle was read in the years following Garnett’s translation as a prophetic diagnosis of Russian political life. Jennifer Wilson, The New Yorker, 24 July 2023 That was an unalterable dictum of political success until Biden finished fourth in Iowa in 2020 followed by a dismal fifth-place finish in New Hampshire. Walter Shapiro, The New Republic, 3 Apr. 2023 His dictum applies to any number of angling maneuvers, including the matter of adding a piece of worm to a wet fly. Will Ryan, Field & Stream, 5 July 2023 Tolstoy began Anna Karenina with a now famous dictum about unhappy families. Josh Zajdman, Vogue, 4 July 2023 ByteDance, like any other Chinese company, is subject to laws that compel extreme compliance with the interests and dictums of the state. Richard Galant, CNN, 26 Mar. 2023 Under the department’s dictum, schools were given until the end of the 2022-23 school year in June to comply or commit to changing team names, logos or imagery that touched on Native culture, with final changes to be completed by June 30, 2025. Jesse McKinley, New York Times, 17 Apr. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'dictum.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

circa 1586, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of dictum was circa 1586

Dictionary Entries Near dictum

Cite this Entry

“Dictum.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dictum. Accessed 30 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


dic·​tum ˈdik-təm How to pronounce dictum (audio)
plural dicta -tə How to pronounce dictum (audio) also dictums
: a statement made with authority : pronouncement

Legal Definition


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


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

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