Throwback Thursday – “ipse dixit,” n., Latin

Throwback Thursday

Ah, the ramp up to elections. It almost never stops, but as we get closer to 2016, candidates are working harder and harder to get and keep media attention.  For this Throwback Thursday, I think I’ve found the perfect word to describe why I’m not a fan of this particular phenomenon. It’s the repetition of meaningless talking points – so much noise with so little substance – filling what is essentially a marketing campaign that, in many instances, ignores issues and policy in favor of media hype.

The word is ipse dixit, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as:

a. An unproved assertion resting on the bare authority of some speaker; a dogmatic statement; a dictum

Obviously, this is not an English phrase, but one pulled into the language from Latin (to which it was translated from Greek). It translates to “he himself said it,” meaning that there is no authority behind the assertion other than the speaker himself.  The OED lists usages for the word starting in 1477 up through 1870.

1572   J. Whitgift Def. Aunswere to Admonit. Tract viii. v. §13   Here is neither scripture, doctor, story, council, or anything else, but ipse dixit.
1601   A. Copley Answere to Let. Jesuited Gentleman 13   A bare Ipse dixit, and nothing else.
1672   A. Marvell Rehearsal Transpros’d i. 57   His Dogmatical Ipse Dixits may rather be a reason why we should not believe him.
1800   W. Taylor in Monthly Mag. 10 423   Criticism deals too much in ipse-dixits.
1870   J. H. Newman Ess. Gram. Assent ii. viii. 255   To emancipate us from the capricious ipse dixit of authority.
Additionally, it lists usages for the deriviatives ipse-dixitism (references from 1885 and 1896), ipse-dixitish (1808), and ipse-dixitist (1832), which give us additional flexibility.
As much as we hear complaints about sound bytes, talking points, and meaningless assertion in politics (and elsewhere), I’m surprised we haven’t held on to this one or something like it. It would certainly see plenty of use.
  • “I’ve been following the campaign, but it’s nothing but ipse dixit after ipse dixit.”
  • “This conversation has become more ipse-dixitish than anything else.”
  • “If you remove all of the ipse dixits, it wasn’t a bad speech.”
  • “When making an argument, avoid ipse dixits by making certain all of your points are supportable.”


One thought on “Throwback Thursday – “ipse dixit,” n., Latin

  1. Pingback: Throwback Thursday – “brabble,” n. or v., Dutch | living with linguaphilia

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