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.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. Chris Mooney, Discover Magazine, 12 Aug. 2011 Of course, those are the very conditions that have enabled an epistemic corrosion that will continue to advance with or without synthetic media. Matteo Wong, The Atlantic, 20 Dec. 2022 There is a final point that is much trickier: political inclinations and other non-epistemic factors color our social-scientific judgments, for experts as well as for novices. Sean Carroll, Discover Magazine, 13 Sep. 2011 But such exemption from standards of evidence and falsifiability puts the claim on the same epistemic level as astrology or climate skepticism. Nick Romeo, Washington Post, 26 Oct. 2022 What remains to enthuse about, from the festival’s first week, is a trio of films that share provocative approaches to the cinematic representation of facts—three radical varieties of epistemic cinema. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 29 Sep. 2022 The novel’s engine is epistemic as well as emotional, Serpell being one of those novelists who have metabolized the quirks and the canniness of literary theory. Lauren Michele Jackson, The New Yorker, 12 Sep. 2022 So Western epistemic traditions must be booted out of Africa. Tunku Varadarajan, WSJ, 12 Aug. 2022 Both Singh and Fitouchi highlight that negatively weighted beliefs such as the threat of punishment are most likely to bypass our epistemic vigilance. Mark Travers, Forbes, 4 July 2022 See More

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

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 5 Feb. 2023.

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