In general usage, a dictum (lit., from Latin, "something that has been said"; plural dicta) is an authoritative or dogmatic statement. In some contexts, such as legal writing and church cantata librettos, dictum can have a specific meaning.
In United States legal terminology, a dictum is a statement of opinion considered authoritative (although not binding), given the recognized authoritativeness of the person who pronounced it.
There are multiple subtypes of dicta, although due to their overlapping nature, legal practitioners in the U.S. colloquially use dictum to refer to any statement by a court the scope of which extends beyond the issue before the court. Dicta in this sense are not binding under the principle of stare decisis, but tend to have a strong persuasive effect, by virtue of having been stated in an authoritative decision, or by an authoritative judge, or both. These subtypes include:
In English law, a dictum is any statement made as part of a judgment of a court. Thus the term includes dicta stated incidentally, in passing (obiter dicta), that are not a necessary part of the rationale for the court's decision (referred to as the ratio decidendi). English lawyers do not, as a rule, categorise dicta more finely than into those that are obiter and those that are not.
When Erdmann Neumeister introduced the cantata concept for sacred music in early 18th-century Protestant Germany, his librettos originally had only two types of movements: recitatives and arias. The text of these movements was the poetic (i.e., in verse) elaboration of some religious thought. In Neumeister's original concept both of these types of movements were to be sung by vocal soloists. Soon thereafter, for instance in a set of cantata librettos published in Meiningen in 1704, two other types of movements, both deriving from earlier genres such as Chorale concerto and Geistliches Konzert, were combined in the cantata librettos: chorales and dicta. The chorale movements typically quoted from Lutheran hymns. For these movements the composer was expected to base his setting on the tune of the hymn. The dicta were prose quotes from sacred scripture, i.e., for the German cantatas of the Reformation era, quotes from the Luther Bible. Libretto authors such as Neumeister and Benjamin Schmolck began to include dicta and chorales in their later cantata cycles.
For the musical setting of dicta there was no fixed format: