from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun Inclination or tendency to turn aside; bias.
  • noun An event without any cause: in reference to the Epicurean theory of the causeless swervings of the atoms.


Sorry, no etymologies found.


  • These atoms are in perpetual motion, but sometimes they swerve, and this swerve—what Lucretius called the "clinamen"—accounts not only for change in general but for the forms that develop in nature.

    How the Secular World Began

  • Cicero, Plutarch, and others — that the atom of Epi - curus was endowed with a so-called clinamen of his invention.

    Dictionary of the History of Ideas

  • The Epicureans, not being able to shut their eyes against this glaring difficulty, that strikes at the very foundation of their whole system, have, for a last shift, invented what Lucretius calls clinamen -- by which is meant a motion somewhat declining or bending from the straight line, and which gives atoms the occasion to meet and encounter.

    The Existence of God

  • To reach the highest degree of amazing extravagance, the Epicureans have had the assurance to explain and account for what we call the soul of man and his free-will, by the clinamen, which is so unaccountable and inexplicable itself.

    The Existence of God

  • Lucretius invoked the swerve (clinamen) not only to explain the creation of things but also to account for the freedom of the will.

    The First Quantum Cosmologist

  • First, it must be the general tendency of atoms to move in straight lines given that the atoms here do not feature the clinamen, or swerve (contrary to the Epicurean tradition, though perhaps as Epicurus himself would say).

    Pierre Gassendi

  • But as Hogle has demonstrated, Shelley's Lucretianism allows him to imagine a moment of clinamen during which these random vectors might start to be attracted towards one another to form worlds, even ecotopias.

    _Queen Mab_ as Topological Repertoire

  • This clinamen was designed to temper the basic determinism of physics by an element of inde - terminism; and as a suggestion in physics it was a remarkable adumbration of indeterminacies in the physics of our day.

    Dictionary of the History of Ideas

  • In addition, the swerve (clinamen, παρέγκλισις) would be uncaused and unpredictable, and this was the innovation that he thought would allow for free will.

    Dictionary of the History of Ideas

  • Epicurus, oddly in contrast here with his modern hedonistic followers, advocates free will and modifies the strict determinism of the atomists, whose physics he accepts, by ascribing to the atoms a clinamen, a faculty of random deviation in their movements.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 6: Fathers of the Church-Gregory XI


Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • Oulipo Ends Where the Work Begins: 'Someone brought up, not for the first time that weekend, the concept of the clinamen. This term, borrowed from the atomic theory of the pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles, was used by Perec to refer to a break from the constraint of a given work, made for conscious aesthetic reasons, rather than as a means to "cheat" the constraint.'

    February 10, 2008

  • JM finds clinamen binding.

    October 5, 2010

  • "At first it was a discrete clinamen, a slight deviation in the orderly descent of textual atoms—a not absent in one place and slipped in somewhere else."

    Upstaged by Jacques Jouet, translated by Leland de la Durantaye, p 28

    September 9, 2011