• heuristic •
hyur-is-tik • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective, Noun
Meaning: 1. Serving as a speculative formulation (educated guess) that is a temporary stop-gap for a missing piece of evidence in a scientific proof of a larger problem. 2. Having the characteristics of a hands-on educational method in which students make real discoveries using the methods and procedures being taught.
Notes: The adverb is heuristically and there are two nouns. A heuristic is a speculative formulation for a missing piece of evidence in the solution of a larger problem, i.e. a heuristic speculation. Heuristics is the trial-and-error approach to problem-solving. Always be sure you place the E before the U in this word to make it as good as gold. Well, maybe, not quite.
In Play: A personnel director might formulate a speculative model of the ideal employee based on best guesses to serve as a heuristic device for probing the causes of worker dissatisfaction at the plant. (This research method could, however, turn out to be a major cause of the dissatisfaction.) A heuristic business course might cover the basics of business, then have students form small businesses themselves and run them for the remainder of the academic year.
Word History: Today's good word goes back to Greek heuriskein "to find", reflecting a heuristic's function in finding a solution to the larger problem. The same verb gave us "Eureka!" In Greek (h)eureka means, "I have found (it)", an expression purportedly exclaimed by Archimedes when he discovered how to determine the purity of the gold in Hiero's crown. (Today we are obliged to Susan Lister, who may have shouted 'Eureka' when she discovered what a good word heuristic is.)
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