Word of the Day: HEURISTIC



: involving or serving as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving by experimental and especially trial-and-error methods


“There are two basic mechanisms involved in picking up new words. First there is the heuristic approach, in which the child is able to infer the meaning of a word when it is spoken by relying on external cues, such as following the gaze of the speaker – or having the object described by the word pointed out to them…” — Jennifer Ouellette, ScientificAmerican.com, August 6, 2013

About the Word:

Heuristic methods help solve problems (as when the evaluation of feedback improves performance in a heuristic computer program).

This investigative approach to problem solving is found in the ancestry of heuristic: the Greek heuriskein “to discover” shares a common ancestor with the Old Irish fuar, meaning “I have found.”


adjective \hyˈris-tik\

: using experience to learn and improve

Full Definition of HEURISTIC

:  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 (as the evaluation of feedback) to improve performance <a heuristic computer program>
heu·ris·ti·cal·ly adverb

Examples of HEURISTIC

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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


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

First Known Use: 1821


noun \hyˈris-tik\

Definition of HEURISTIC

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

Examples of HEURISTIC

  1. 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, Commonweal6 Oct. 2000
  2. Search engines … use heuristics to determine the way in which to order—and thereby prioritize—pages. —Soumen Chakrabarti et al., Scientific American, June 1999



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