Printable Version
Pronunciation: hyur-is-tik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, Noun

Meaning: 1. Practical, hypothetical, based on an educated guess that serves as a practical guide in the investigation or solution of a larger problem. 2. Related to a "hands on" teaching method that leads students to an understanding of a subject by allowing them to conduct real research on that subject.

Notes: When you write this word, be sure to keep your [e]s and [u]s straight—[e] before [u]. Also be sure to add the empty suffix -al before the -ly to form the adverb, heuristically. The process noun is heuristics, but you may also use the adjective itself as a noun: a heuristic is a practical device or assumption applied in solving a problem.

In Play: One way to determine how people in your office are doing at their jobs would be to create a heuristic ideal worker, made up of all the qualities you think those on the job should have, and compare everyone to that ideal. (Computers are great at this.) The problem is that the whole system rests on the heuristic assumption that such an ideal is possible. A heuristic mechanism in education would be a hands-on experience that leads to a better understanding of a subject, as participation in a political campaign would deepen someone's understanding of politics (and the circus) more than lectures.

Word History: This Good Word comes to us from Greek heuriskein "to find, discover", the past tense of which is Eureka! "I have found (it)". Archimedes once was watching his bath overflow when he suddenly realized that he could apply the principles of water displacement in determining the amount of base metal in gold and hence the purity of gold. Archimedes not only shouted Eureka! "I have found it!", he ran from the bath in nothing more than his excitement. (Today we are obliged to Susan Lister, who may have shouted 'Eureka' when she discovered what a good word heuristic is.)

Dr. Goodword,

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