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empirical

Printable Version Pronunciation: em-pi-rê-kêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Supported by experimentation and scientific observation; provable by laboratory methods. 2. Supported by practical experience rather than theory or study.

Notes: This word is the adjective to the noun empiric, which originally referred to a practitioner who works from experience rather than training, but later moved on to mean "quack, imposter, charlatan". It is still used mostly to refer to physicians but applies to anyone involved in the sciences. Empiric may also be used as an adjectival synonym of empirical. We have to be careful with our use of today's word since it is an oxymoron carrying with it two opposing meanings: (1) supported by scientific research and (2) ignoring scientific research. The first meaning is by far the more widely used today.

In Play: The rigorous scientific method is empiricism, so if you want to know if there is any scientific evidence supporting a claim, today's Good Word is the one to use: "Is there any empirical evidence that a rolling stone gathers no moss?" In medicine it can also refer to knowledge gained through experience rather than experimentation: "Doctor Proctor has gained empirical knowledge of a wide variety of foot fungi from the smells emanating from his patients' feet when they take off their shoes."

Word History: Today's Good Word came to us directly from Latin empiricus but it originated as Greek empeirikos "experienced", the adjective of the noun empeiria "experience". Empeiria is composed of en- "in" + peira "trial, experiment" + a noun suffix. The root of peira came from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to try, risk", which also gave us English fear. It is also at the base of Latin periculum "trial, danger", which Old French drastically reduced to peril for us. Is the word empire related to today's word? No, empire came from the unrelated Latin verb imperare "to command". (It is an empirical fact that Jackie Strauss took no risk whatever in suggesting today's really Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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