: the ground (see ground entry 1 sense 4a) of a legal action
: the main point or part : essence
the gist of an argument

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The main point, overarching theme, essence—that’s gist in a nutshell. The gist of gist, if you will. The gist of a conversation, argument, story, or what-have-you is what we rely on when the actual words and details are only imperfectly recalled, inessential, or too voluminous to recount in their entirety. Gist was borrowed from the Anglo-French legal phrase laccion gist (“the action lies/is based [on]”) in the 17th century, and it was originally used in law as a term referring to the foundation or grounds for a legal action without which the action would not be legally sustainable.

Examples of gist in a Sentence

Thus, Poulterers' Case gave rise to a doctrine which survives to this day: the gist of conspiracy is the agreement, and so the agreement is punishable even if its purpose was not achieved. Wayne R. LaFave & Austin W. Scott, Jr., Criminal Law, (1972) 1986
… Einstein showed how time intervals depend on the motion of people and clocks doing the measuring. And that's the gist of relativity. Alan Lightman, Science, January/February 1984
Dorothea told him that she had seen Lydgate, and recited the gist of her conversation with him about the Hospital. George Eliot, Middlemarch, 1872
didn't catch every word between them, but heard enough to get the gist of the conversation
Recent Examples on the Web That’s the overall gist of what is going to happen with Artificial Intelligence (AI) throughout the upcoming year of 2023. Lance Eliot, Forbes, 29 Dec. 2022 For years, scientists have (mostly) agreed on the basic gist of the moon’s origin story: About 4.5 billion years ago, a giant, Mars-size object called Theia slammed into the nascent Earth, ejecting hot debris that coalesced into our moon. Carolyn Y. Johnson, Washington Post, 23 Oct. 2023 From speaking with about a dozen players, including Cooks and Vander Esch, an overall gist was ascertained. Michael Gehlken, Dallas News, 7 Sep. 2023 That's the basic gist of Porco Rosso, Hayao Miyazaki's greatest film about flying and an underrated classic. Matt Kamen, WIRED, 7 Sep. 2023 But the basic gist is this: Ohio’s three biggest cities—Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati—are politically closer to Des Moines and Indianapolis than reliably blue Philadelphia, and thus insufficient offsets in otherwise red states. Philip Elliott, Time, 9 Aug. 2023 While well-shaped in editorial terms, this engrossing document’s unvarnished gist is reinforced by the lack of any musical scoring. Dennis Harvey, Variety, 3 May 2023 Watch on What rules do the IBLP follow? IBLP's main gist is that men are subservient to God and women are subservient to men. Olivia Evans, Women's Health, 10 June 2023 There are a number of variations of no-knead bread recipes, but the basic gist is that a slow, cold rise helps the bread develop flavor and texture, and the Dutch oven works like a steam oven to create the bread’s signature crust. Casey Barber, CNN, 13 Jan. 2023 See More

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

Word History


Anglo-French, it lies, from gisir to lie, ultimately from Latin jacēre — more at adjacent

First Known Use

1632, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of gist was in 1632


Dictionary Entries Near gist

Cite this Entry

“Gist.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


: the main point of a subject : drift

Legal Definition


: the ground or foundation of a legal action without which it would not be sustainable

Anglo-French, in the phrase laccion gist the action lies or is based (on), from gisir to lie (of process), from Old French gesir to lie, ultimately from Latin jacere

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