ep·​i·​ste·​mic ˌe-pə-ˈstē-mik How to pronounce epistemic (audio)
: of or relating to knowledge or knowing : cognitive
epistemically adverb

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The Evolution of Epistemic

Epistemic has shifted from the arcane worlds of philosophy, linguistics, and rhetoric to the practical realms of business and marketing; for example, a 2007 Letter to Shareholders from the asset management firm Legg Mason referred to investors who "have a high epistemic threshold and do exhaustive analysis to create near certainty, or at least very high conviction, about their investments." Wherever it is used, epistemic traces back to the knowledge of the Greeks. It comes from epistēmē, Greek for "knowledge." That Greek word is from the verb epistanai, meaning "to know or understand," a word formed from the prefix epi- (meaning "upon" or "attached to") and histanai (meaning "to cause to stand"). The study of the nature and grounds of knowledge is called epistemology, and one who engages in such study is an epistemologist.

Examples of epistemic in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Will either ever be as essential or influential as Twitter among epistemic elites? Katherine Alejandra Cross, WIRED, 13 July 2023 These human sciences present a patchwork of conflicting claims to epistemic supremacy. Jason Blakely, Harper's Magazine, 10 July 2023 The interrogations of Laurence delve deep into her childhood, her family, her life in Paris, her academic ambitions, her relationship with the father of her child (an older and married white man), and her own epistemic relationship to the killing (including in relation to her Senegalese heritage). Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 29 Sep. 2022 The more obvious pattern uniting the likes of Covid denialist Alex Berenson, anti-vaccine advocate and Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and election-denying Gateway Pundit publisher Jim Hoft is their epistemic closure. Rob Pegoraro, The New Republic, 7 July 2023 As Nguyen notes in this essay, two things are needed for cult thinking to bloom — epistemic bubbles combined with echo chambers — and social media has it in spades. Lisa Bubert, Longreads, 9 Mar. 2022 Some of us write about epistemic relativism, the view that truth can vary depending on the context. Kathleen Higgins, Scientific American, 5 Dec. 2016 In epistemic bubbles, other voices are not heard; in echo chambers, other voices are actively undermined. Lisa Bubert, Longreads, 9 Mar. 2022 The GOP’s electorate is tiny and increasingly radical, in many cases existing in a different epistemic universe altogether where global warming is more likely to be caused by Jewish space lasers than the burning of fossil fuels. Kate Aronoff, The New Republic, 3 June 2022 See More

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

Word History


Greek epistḗmē "skill, expertise, knowledge, scientific knowledge (as opposed to practical skill)" + -ic entry 1; epistḗmē, from epístamai, epístasthai "to have the skill, know how (with infinitive), have knowledge of, understand" (from epi- epi- + Greek hístēmi, histánai "to cause to stand, place," middle voice hístamai, hístasthai "to take up a position, come and stand") + -mē, abstract noun suffix — more at assist entry 1

Note: The long vowel -ē- in epistḗmē, for expected -a-, has been explained as carried over from the adjective epistḗmōn "having knowledge, skillful" (as the suffix -mōn usually requires length of the preceding vowel), or alternatively from the influence of abstract nouns with the same suffix, as mnḗmē "memory," phḗmē "utterance, prophecy." The verb epístamai, formed from the prefix epi- and hístamai "to take up a position," appears to show early deletion of /h/ and contraction; alternatively, it has been hypothesized that the base verb is *stámai without reduplication. Beside epístamai there is a regularly formed verb ephístēmi, ephistánai "to set, place," ephístamai, ephístasthai "come and stand (at a place), take up a position, approach" that may have been created after epístamai had lost its original literal meaning. The sense progression is presumably something like "stand in the presence of something (or someone)," hence "perceive clearly," then "understand." The same development is evident in Old English forstandan "to understand," Old High German forstān. Compare understand.

First Known Use

1922, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of epistemic was in 1922


Dictionary Entries Near epistemic

Cite this Entry

“Epistemic.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epistemic. Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

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