gno·​mic ˈnō-mik How to pronounce gnomic (audio)
: characterized by aphorism
gnomic utterances
: given to the composition of gnomic writing
a gnomic poet

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A gnome is an aphorism—that is, an observation or sentiment reduced to the form of a saying. Gnomes are sometimes couched in metaphorical or figurative language, they are often quite clever, and they are always concise. We borrowed the word gnome in the 16th century from the Greeks, who based their gnome on the verb gignōskein, meaning "to know." (The other gnome—referring to the dwarf of folklore—comes from New Latin and is unrelated to the aphoristic gnome.) We began using gnomic, the adjective form of gnome, in the late 18th century. It describes a style of writing, or sometimes speech, characterized by pithy phrases, which are often terse to the point of mysteriousness.

Examples of gnomic in a Sentence

He made gnomic utterances concerning death.
Recent Examples on the Web Then came Reed the freelance auteur, churning out spotty solo albums and delivering gnomic anti-interviews to the press. Jeremy Lybarger, The New Republic, 17 Oct. 2023 The pages of No More are composed of gnomic iterations, fragments of thought or expostulation, and dialogue with her devoted partner Yann Andréa, who compiled No More in the penultimate year of her life. Matthew Gavin Frank, Harper's Magazine, 21 Dec. 2022 Schrader is lucky that cinema-illiterate Millennials have no memory of Peter Sellers’s gnomic act as Chauncey Gardiner in Being There. Armond White, National Review, 24 May 2023 His conducting style could be equally gnomic. Justin Davidson, Vulture, 17 Mar. 2021 The effect is at once childlike and gnomic, persuasive in Margaret Mitsutani’s crisp, consistent translation from the Japanese. Natasha Wimmer, The New York Review of Books, 16 Feb. 2023 This was classic Shorter—gnomic, gnostic, mischievous, wise. David A. Graham, The Atlantic, 3 Mar. 2023 The idea of an archaic architecture appealed to architect Louis I. Kahn, a mystic with a penchant for gnomic aphorism and musing on phenomenology. Dallas News, 5 Oct. 2022 His own gnomic utterances, his constant wordplay, both onscreen and in interviews, helped maintain the illusion. Bilge Ebiri, Vulture, 14 Sep. 2022 See More

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

Word History


borrowed from Greek gnōmikós "dealing in maxims, didactic," from gnṓmē "maxim" + -ikos -ic entry 1 — more at gnome entry 1

First Known Use

1784, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of gnomic was in 1784


Dictionary Entries Near gnomic

Cite this Entry

“Gnomic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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