empirical

adjective

em·​pir·​i·​cal im-ˈpir-i-kəl How to pronounce empirical (audio)
em-
variants or less commonly empiric
1
: originating in or based on observation or experience
empirical data
2
: relying on experience or observation alone often without due regard for system and theory
an empirical basis for the theory
3
: capable of being verified or disproved by observation or experiment
empirical laws
4
: of or relating to empiricism

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Empirical Has Roots in Latin and Greek

When empirical first appeared as an adjective in English, it meant simply "in the manner of an empiric." An empiric was a member of an ancient sect of doctors who practiced medicine based exclusively on observation or experience as contrasted with those who relied on theory or philosophy. The name empiric derives from Latin empīricus, itself from Greek empeirikós, meaning "based on observation (of medical treatment), experienced." The root of the Greek word (-peiros) is a derivative of peîra, meaning "attempt, trial, test."

Example Sentences

Eventually, access to electron microscopes and X-ray diffraction technology provided the necessary empirical evidence to test the hypotheses, and the jigsaw pieces began to fall into place. Gail Nichols, Ceramics Monthly, February 2002 No religion, new or old, is subject to empirical proof, so what we have is a contest between faiths. Harvey Cox, Atlantic, March 1999 They collected plenty of empirical data from their experiments. guidelines for raising children that are based on empirical evidence
Recent Examples on the Web My early research started me on the path of empirical accounting topics. Robert G. Eccles, Forbes, 23 Jan. 2023 The only problem is that there is no empirical measurement of consciousness. Monique Brouillette, Popular Mechanics, 13 Jan. 2023 But there is a separate issue from this empirical one about whether imperialism was beneficial or not. Patrick J. Deneen, Harper’s Magazine , 5 Jan. 2023 Even while taking an empirical lens to human nature, Byrne remains a Dadaist at heart. Megan O’grady, The New Yorker, 3 Jan. 2023 The magician makes use, in other words, of our own capacity for empirical observation: Our active interpretation of the material of perception can permit us, if carefully guided, to see what isn’t there. Shuja Haider, New York Times, 2 Jan. 2023 Weiss provided multiple empirical examples, across a thread of almost 30 tweets. Wilfred Reilly, National Review, 30 Dec. 2022 Printed on the catalog cover and styled with the look of empirical rigor, the diagram outlines a complex and seemingly inexorable momentum from figuration, at the top of the page, to abstraction, at the bottom. Susan Tallman, The New York Review of Books, 29 Dec. 2022 There isn’t any strong theoretical or empirical evidence for an inflation target of exactly 2%. Fortune, 12 Dec. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'empirical.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

Etymology

empiric "of physicians in ancient Greece and Rome holding that treatment should be based on observation rather than theory" (going back to Middle English emperic, borrowed from early Medieval Latin empīricus, borrowed from Greek empeirikós, "based on observation (of medical treatment), experienced") + -al entry 1 — more at empiric

First Known Use

1576, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of empirical was in 1576

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Dictionary Entries Near empirical

Cite this Entry

“Empirical.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empirical. Accessed 27 Jan. 2023.

Kids Definition

empirical

adjective
em·​pir·​i·​cal im-ˈpir-i-kəl How to pronounce empirical (audio)
em-
variants also empiric
1
: relying on experience or observation usually without regard for a system and theory
empirical medicine
2
: based on observation or experience
empirical data
3
: capable of being proved or disproved by observation or experiment
empirical laws
empirically adverb

Medical Definition

empirical

adjective
em·​pir·​i·​cal -i-kəl How to pronounce empirical (audio)
variants also empiric
1
archaic
a
: following or used in the practice of the empirics compare rational sense 2
b
: being or befitting a quack or charlatan
2
: originating in or based on observation or experiment
much medical lore had had an empirical origin … centuries of trial-and-error gropings after remediesR. H. Shryock
3
: capable of being confirmed, verified, or disproved by observation or experiment
empirical statements or laws
empirically adverb

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