Word of The Day for Sunday, April 3, 2011


heu•ris•tic (hyoo-RIS-tik)

1. involving or serving as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving by experimental and especially trial-and-error methods
2. of or relating to exploratory problem-solving techniques that utilize self-educating techniques to improve performance
3. serving to indicate or point out; stimulating interest as a means of furthering investigation
4. the study or practice of heuristic procedure, argument, or method

heuristically adverb

1821; German heuristisch, from New Latin heuristicus, irregular formation from Gk. heuretikos "inventive," related to heuriskein "to find"

Related Words: eureka

Sentence Examples:
• This does not mean that the method should be heuristic in Rousseau's sense, that the child should be told nothing, but be left to rediscover all knowledge for himself. But it does mean that in the imparting of the garnered experience of the race the child must be trained in the methods by which the race has slowly and gradually built up a knowledge of the means necessary for the realisation of the many and complex ends of civilised life. -The Children: Some Educational Problems, Alexander Darroch

• There is a common heuristic about the amount of food to order, expressed as "Get N - 1 entrees"; the value of N, which is the number of people in the group, can be inferred from context.- The Hackers' Dictionary

• There are no leading strings to interfere with the independence of one's progress. But this self-activity is increased, if the guide—to keep up the simile—lets go the hand of his companion, because the latter, with the goal in sight, is so sure of foot as to need no further assistance. In other words, the developmental method of teaching should be dropped to let the pupil find knowledge by himself; or, in technical terms, the genetic method should be exchanged for the heuristic. -The science of education in its sociological and historical aspects, Otto Willmann, Felix Marie Kirsch

Why This Word:

Heuristic methods are used to speed up the process of finding a good enough solution, where an exhaustive search is impractical. Examples of this method include using a "rule of thumb", an educated guess, an intuitive judgment, or common sense. In more precise terms, heuristics are strategies using readily accessible, though loosely applicable, information to control problem solving in human beings and machines.

Sources: Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, Online Etymology

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

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