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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

Example Sentences

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
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 PowerWash Simulator is the latest, and most successful entry in a long line of sedate, mundane simulation games — experiences that are more concerned with replicating the heuristic monotony of a trade industry, rather than manifesting any visceral Xbox thrills. Luke Winkie, Vulture, 26 Dec. 2022 This is a type of heuristic, a mental shortcut that humans evolved in order to make quick and mostly accurate judgments about their environment. Keith Kloor, Discover Magazine, 24 Jan. 2013 One way of thinking, so the model said, is heuristic—a quick and dirty approach to processing information. Kyle Hill, Discover Magazine, 7 Jan. 2014 The do-not-feed-the-trolls heuristic targets online trolls and other malicious users who harass, cyberbully or use other antisocial tactics. Anastasia Kozyreva, Fortune, 21 Feb. 2023
Research in social psychology also suggests ways of coping with heuristics, confirmation biases and social pressures. Adam B. Cohen, Scientific American, 1 July 2018 In our field, heuristics can be used to anticipate and thwart the malfeasance of cybercriminals. Ajay Jotwani, Forbes, 27 Mar. 2023 Large LLMs may simply be learning heuristics that are out of reach for those with fewer parameters or lower-quality data. Stephen Ornes, Quanta Magazine, 16 Mar. 2023 Cognitive heuristics, shortcuts. IEEE Spectrum, 12 Oct. 2020 Green and Daniels write that this kind of intuitive correction is a heuristic honed over years of practice and constant feedback. Keith Law, Wired, 1 May 2020 Research by behavioral economists like Richard Thaler, the Nobel laureate, found that many people have used simple rules, or heuristics, to guide their behavior in benign ways. Jeff Sommer, New York Times, 24 Apr. 2020 Performing well on the NBME’s exams often relies heavily on heuristics. Vishal Khetpal, STAT, 20 Mar. 2020 That year, Edward Farhi, then at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, proposed another heuristic, or best-guess, approach called the quantum approximation optimization algorithm (QAOA). Michael Brooks, Scientific American, 3 Oct. 2019 See More

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 8 Jun. 2023.

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