Trend Watch

Vox: America is Facing 'Epistemic' Crisis

Searches rose over 16,000%

Epistemic experienced a sudden and dramatic upswing in lookups on November 2nd, after the word appeared several times in an article on titled “America is facing an epistemic crisis.”

The US is experiencing a deep epistemic breach, a split not just in what we value or want, but in who we trust, how we come to know things, and what we believe we know — what we believe exists, is true, has happened and is happening.
— David Roberts, Vox (, 2 Nov. 2017

We define epistemic as “of or relating to knowledge or knowing: cognitive.” This is a somewhat broader definition than the word would have had for much of its time in the English language; it has most often, since its introduction in the 19th century, been used in the field of philosophy and linguistics.

The epistemic names; which may be engrafted, without variation, into every modern language.
— James Burrill Angell, Commemorative Oration, 1887

In modern use, however, epistemic appears to be increasingly used in more generalized fashion, independent of specialized academic contexts.

Whatever the case, at this point it feels like trying to parse the post-colonial subtext in Gallagher’s humor or Danielle Steele’s fiction: a lot of time spent searching for meaning in an epistemic black hole.
— Derek L. Penwell, The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), 15 Aug. 2017

The word comes from the Greek epistēmē, meaning “knowledge.”

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