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Pronunciation: sto-kæs-tik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Random. 2. Following a random distribution pattern, such that its probability may be analyzed statistically, but not predicted precisely. 3. (Rare) Pertaining to conjecture, speculation.

Notes: Stochastic is generally left to the realm of science, but any area of behavior that can only be measured statistically is stochastic. This word comes with a retinue of the usual suspects: a noun, stochasticity, and another form of the adjective, stochastical, with the meaningless suffix -al that must be present in the adverb, stochastically.

In Play: Today's Good Word may be used as a high-falutin' synonym for random: "Hurricanes and tornadoes are stochastic events which are difficult if not impossible to predict." The other meaning of stochastic is the antonym of deterministic and empirical: "Most of the research on smoking has relied on stochastic analysis, but all of it has shown the same results as the empirical research."

Word History: This Good Word comes from Greek stochastikos "able to guess, speculating" from stochazesthai "guess, speculate". The verb, in turn, is based on stochos "aim, target, goal", which originally referred to a pointed stick set up for archers to shoot at. Greek inherited this word from Proto-Indo-European ste(n)gh- "stick, prick, pointed", which came to English via the Old Germanic language as sting. Without the Fickle N the word became stagga in Old English and stag in Modern English. (I hope the suggestion of today's Good Word by Barbara Kelly was not stochastic; I would like to receive many more.)

Dr. Goodword,

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