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.

Example Sentences

A doctor must follow the dictum of “First, do no harm.”
Recent Examples on the Web Anne is one of those royals who takes her great-grandmother Queen Mary's famous dictum seriously. Maria Puente, USA TODAY, 17 Sep. 2022 Alice does her best to interpret and enact this dictum in the ever-changing circumstances of Wonderland. Rivka Galchen, The New Yorker, 6 July 2022 For all the stunts and brash marketing, the franchise has found a crucial ingredient that traces to Barnum’s dictum about treating customers well. Los Angeles Times, 16 May 2022 This key line—which, following the quotability of the original film, seems devised to become a catchphrase—isn’t limited to flying and fighting but is delivered as a dictum that could as easily be echoed by anyone with anything to do anywhere. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 26 May 2022 So there wasn’t a shootaround dictum or pregame speech. Jim Owczarski, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 23 Apr. 2022 The Taliban dictum reversed an announcement — demanded by and promised to donor countries — just days earlier that all schools for girls would be open. Washington Post, 31 Mar. 2022 The Ukraine crisis has overturned the final dictum, reinstating energy security as a major issue for the West. Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic, 30 Mar. 2022 This straightforward Friedman dictum is certainly borne out by the data available to us over the past two years. Edwin T. Burton, National Review, 8 Feb. 2022 See More

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.

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 26 Nov. 2022.

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.

History and Etymology for dictum

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

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