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heu·​ris·​tic hyu̇-ˈri-stik How to pronounce heuristic (audio)
: involving or serving as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving by experimental and especially trial-and-error methods
heuristic techniques
a heuristic assumption
also : of or relating to exploratory problem-solving techniques that utilize self-educating techniques (such as the evaluation of feedback) to improve performance
a heuristic computer program
heuristically adverb


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heu·​ris·​tic hyu̇-ˈri-stik How to pronounce heuristic (audio)
: the study or practice of heuristic (see heuristic entry 1) procedure
: heuristic (see heuristic entry 1) argument
: a heuristic (see heuristic entry 1) method or procedure

Examples of heuristic in a Sentence

Adjective If Orbitz prevails, its online reservation process alone may blow away the competition. Unlike mainframe-based systems …  , Orbitz uses racks of PCs to search fare data, making it easier to scale up computing power. And its intelligent … algorithms evaluate all the possible fares simultaneously instead of employing heuristic shortcuts designed to use as little computing power as possible. Evan Ratliff, WIRED, September 2000
Because "tradition" has served as a powerful heuristic term, we are always in danger of reifying it … Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Reading Black, Reading Feminist, 1990
Its heuristic principle would be St. Augustine's axiom that the Old Testament is revealed in the New and the New concealed in the Old … V. B. Leitch, American Literary Criticism from the Thirties to the Eighties, 1988
Noun "Cult" is best understood not as a descriptor, but as a command, like a law officer's "Halt!" Its purpose is to stop and contain. A more useful heuristic would be to identify precisely the most disturbing practices, beliefs, or incidents in the world of a "cult" … Robert A. Orsi, Commonweal, 6 Oct. 2000
Search engines … use heuristics to determine the way in which to order—and thereby prioritize—pages. Soumen Chakrabarti et al., Scientific American, June 1999
Recent Examples on the Web
Six ways to avoid the affect heuristic Avoiding the pitfalls of the affect heuristic involves cultivating an awareness of its influence and actively engaging System 2 thinking. Bryce Hoffman, Forbes, 19 Feb. 2024 This technology direction also makes heuristic calculation of time using SSL/TLS far less attractive when compared to deterministic, secure time synchronization. Dan Goodin, Ars Technica, 16 Aug. 2023 The program relied on early ideas of symbolic logic, with algorithmic steps and heuristic guidance in list form. John McCarthy, IEEE Spectrum, 6 May 2023 There is historic precedent for this heuristic perception. Peter A. Young, STAT, 2 June 2023 The word heuristic was invoked all through the summer of 1956. John McCarthy, IEEE Spectrum, 6 May 2023 Teaching them about the affect heuristic couldn’t hurt either. Beau River, Forbes, 20 Apr. 2023 The nurses had unknowingly applied what is known as the authority heuristic, trusting too readily in a person in a position of responsibility. Adam B. Cohen, Scientific American, 1 July 2018 Shafir points to another idea from behavioral economics: the heuristic called social proof, also known as informational social influence, occurs when someone who is uncertain of how to behave, or who or what to believe, looks to others for behavioral guidance. Melba Newsome, Scientific American, 17 Mar. 2021
Decades of psychological study, influenced by the pioneering work of Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky, have shown that diagnosis is subject to the same predictable biases and heuristics as other domains of knowledge. Adam Rodman, STAT, 3 May 2024 Traditionally, retirement planning has utilized this outside-in structure, leveraging simple heuristics to prevent retirees from running out of financial resources during their lifetimes. Roger Whitney, Forbes, 28 Mar. 2024 Starting in the mid-1960s, expert systems brought a new focus on capturing and programming real-world knowledge, specifically the knowledge of specialized domain experts and specifically, their rules of thumb (heuristics). Gil Press, Forbes, 25 Feb. 2024 The price-quality heuristic is an economic principle that attempts to connect the price of a product to its value. Steve Booren, The Denver Post, 21 Jan. 2024 Six ways to avoid the affect heuristic Avoiding the pitfalls of the affect heuristic involves cultivating an awareness of its influence and actively engaging System 2 thinking. Bryce Hoffman, Forbes, 19 Feb. 2024 Of course the proof is in the pudding, macroeconomic models haven't done better than simple heuristics in predicting economic performance, but the economy is a more complex system than an election. Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 30 Sep. 2010 Asset Protection Is Not Exclusively For The Ultra-Wealthy A general heuristic is that individuals with over $1 million in assets may benefit from a formal asset protection strategy. Blake Harris, Forbes, 11 Dec. 2023 Leaders frequently rely on heuristics to make choices—especially during crises. Foreign Affairs, 24 Oct. 2023

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

Word History


Adjective and Noun

German heuristisch, from New Latin heuristicus, from Greek heuriskein to discover; akin to Old Irish fo-fúair he found

First Known Use


1821, in the meaning defined above


1860, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of heuristic was in 1821

Dictionary Entries Near heuristic

Cite this Entry

“Heuristic.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/heuristic. Accessed 14 Jul. 2024.

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