Word of the Day : March 29, 2017

Occam's razor

play
noun AH-kumz-RAY-zer

Definition

: a scientific and philosophic rule that entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily which is interpreted as requiring that the simplest of competing theories be preferred to the more complex or that explanations of unknown phenomena be sought first in terms of known quantities

Examples

Invoking Occam's razor, Randall concluded that the sill was wet most likely because someone left the window open during the storm.

"To even describe the plot is to make clear how phantasmagorical the whole idea is. Occam's razor applies here. Or, as medical students are taught, when you hear hoofbeats, think horses not zebras." — Paul Cassell, The Washington Post, 6 Feb. 2017



Did You Know?

William of Occam (also spelled "Ockham") didn't invent the rule associated with his name. Others had espoused the "keep it simple" concept before that 14th-century philosopher and theologian embraced it, but no one wielded the principle (also known as the "law of parsimony") as relentlessly as he did. He used it to counter what he considered the fuzzy logic of his theological contemporaries, and his applications of it inspired 19th-century Scottish philosopher Sir William Hamilton to link Occam with the idea of cutting away extraneous material, giving us the modern name for the principle.



Test Your Vocabulary

Fill in the blanks to complete a word for a principle intended as a general rule of action: pr _ _ e _ t.

VIEW THE ANSWER

Podcast


More Words of the Day

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!