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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a statement that is generally believed to be obvious or true

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

Axiom comes from the Greek and Latin ‘axiōma’ meaning ‘that which is thought worthy or fit’. It was first used in English in the late 16th century in a book called ‘Euphues’ by the poet and dramatist John Lyly. The related adjective axiomatic dates from the late 18th century.


Although it is used in specialized ways in philosophy, logic and mathematics, in general use the term axiom means a statement that is obviously true and recognized as such by most people. It can thus serve as a starting point for discussion without needing to be discussed itself. In the opening lines of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Jane Austen is stating an axiom about the need for wealthy young men to be married; although this being Jane Austen we know, of course, that the statement, far from being a universal truth, is to be taken with a pinch of salt. It in fact represents the view of several of the novel’s characters, notably Mrs Bennet, the business of whose life is to get her daughters married off as advantageously as possible. At almost exactly the same time as Austen started writing the novel, the adjective axiomatic was first used in print, in the magazine ‘Monthly Review’. It is therefore conceivable that instead of beginning the novel ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged…’ Austen could have used the neologism instead.  


“From the point of view of pure Art, you could almost establish it as an axiom that the subject is irrelevant, style itself being an absolute manner of seeing things.”
(Gustave Flaubert)

“The grand aim of all science is to cover the greatest number of empirical facts by logical deduction from the smallest number of hypotheses or axioms.”
(Albert Einstein)

Related words

aphorism, catchphrase, dictum

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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