heu·​ris·​tic | \ hyu̇-ˈri-stik How to pronounce heuristic (audio) \

Definition of heuristic

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: 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


heu·​ris·​tic | \ hyu̇-ˈri-stik How to pronounce heuristic (audio) \

Definition of heuristic (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : the study or practice of heuristic (see heuristic entry 1) procedure
2 : heuristic (see heuristic entry 1) argument
3 : a heuristic (see heuristic entry 1) method or procedure

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Other Words from heuristic


heuristically \ hyu̇-​ˈri-​sti-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce heuristically (audio) \ adverb

Examples of heuristic in a Sentence


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


"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: Adjective

For now, this idea of visualizing quantum objects by means of bubbles or elastic balloons is just a fun heuristic exercise. Quanta Magazine, "How to Tame Quantum Weirdness," 16 Feb. 2017 Producers, directors, and writers should understand that viewers today are enlisting a decision-making heuristic similar to the one Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes used to determine which suitors deserved her limited supply of contraceptive sponges. Daniel H. Pink, The Atlantic, "The Future of Television Is Being Able to Pick Shows by Length," 11 June 2018 My heuristic trap was compounded by overconfidence in the F-150’s AdvanceTrac system, Ford’s version of the anti-lock braking system, or A.B.S., installed on all newer cars and trucks. Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker, "Black Ice, Near-Death, and Transcendence on I-91," 2 Apr. 2018 Spontaneous bursts of creativity arise from the heuristic and sometimes nonsensical logic of the human thought. Joseph Dussault, The Christian Science Monitor, "Can a machine be creative?," 8 Dec. 2017 Here, twenty-two-year-old Ivan Nikolayovitch from the flyspeck hamlet of Dubovi Makharyntsi found — one way or another — his literal and heuristic home in Hitler's world. Scott Raab, Esquire, "John Demjanjuk: The Last Nazi," 11 Aug. 2010

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Kant famously posed a heuristic in three questions. Hermione Hoby, The New Yorker, "What Does It Mean to Be a “Real” Writer?," 3 July 2019 With proofs of the heuristics being hard to come by, mathematicians have adopted more modest goals. Kevin Hartnett, Quanta Magazine, "New Number Systems Seek Their Lost Primes," 2 Mar. 2017 By adopting imperfect heuristics that lead to some decision mistakes, the brain can free up mental resources for deployment in a broader range of decisions as well as other physiological duties. Richard B. Mckenzie, WSJ, "People Aren’t Rational, and That’s Why We Need Free Trade," 15 June 2018 This approach preserves performance, but unfortunately, Microsoft's heuristics are tightly constrained. Peter Bright, Ars Technica, "Microsoft’s compiler-level Spectre fix shows how hard this problem will be to solve," 14 Feb. 2018 These war manifestos are, in short, an exercise in motivated reasoning employing the confirmation bias, the hindsight bias and other cognitive heuristics to justify a predetermined end. Michael Shermer, Scientific American, "Can We Agree to Outlaw War—Again?," 1 Dec. 2017 Even small changes to a vulnerable piece of code can defeat Microsoft's heuristics—the code will be vulnerable to Spectre, but the compiler won't add lfence instructions to protect it. Peter Bright, Ars Technica, "Microsoft’s compiler-level Spectre fix shows how hard this problem will be to solve," 14 Feb. 2018 Those heuristics are out the door with a rowing machine, though. Jay Willis, GQ, "The Rowing Machine Is the Gym's Most Underrated Piece of Equipment," 27 Mar. 2018 Intel says that heuristics can be developed to figure out the best places in a program to include them but warns that they probably shouldn't be used with every single array bounds test; the loss of speculative execution imposes too high a penalty. Peter Bright, Ars Technica, "Meltdown and Spectre: Here’s what Intel, Apple, Microsoft, others are doing about it," 5 Jan. 2018

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

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First Known Use of heuristic


1821, in the meaning defined above


1860, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for heuristic

Adjective and Noun

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

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Learn More about heuristic

Dictionary Entries near heuristic

heu gase





Heusler alloy


Statistics for heuristic

Last Updated

24 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for heuristic

The first known use of heuristic was in 1821

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More Definitions for heuristic



English Language Learners Definition of heuristic

formal : using experience to learn and improve

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More from Merriam-Webster on heuristic

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with heuristic

Nglish: Translation of heuristic for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of heuristic for Arabic Speakers

Comments on heuristic

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characterized by aphorism

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