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Forming nouns.

French ‑isme, via Latin from Greek ‑ismos, ‑isma.

This is one of the most prolific word-creating elements in the language. Beyond the 2000 or more that are recorded in large dictionaries, many others are formed as need arises, often for a single use.

The sense nearest to its Greek roots is that of some action or its result: baptism, criticism, exorcism, ostracism, plagiarism, volcanism. Derived from that is the sense of some state or quality: barbarism, egotism, heroism, hypnotism, isomerism, magnetism, organism.

As a further stage in its development it has come to denote a system, principle, practice, doctrine, or ideological movement. This is now its main sense, to the extent that ism was created in the late seventeenth century for a distinctive practice, system, or philosophy, typically a political ideology or an artistic movement, often with derogatory undertones. For a few common examples, see the list below.

Examples of some recent, often temporary, formations (out of a very large group) include hacktivism (the movement comprising people who hack into and damage computer systems as a political act, modelled on activism), knee-jerkism, New Labourism, presenteeism (the principle of staying at work for excessive hours out of anxiety for one's job, the opposite of absenteeism), rejectionism (a political viewpoint in which the whole of a policy is rejected without possibility of compromise), shopaholism (the state of being addicted to shopping), youthism (an emphasis in fashion and the media on young people to the exclusion of other age groups).

Two other specific senses are worth noting. Some stand for a peculiarity in language (colloquialism, syllogism), especially that of a particular group (Americanism, Cockneyism, Irishism) or some point of style characteristic of a writer (Hitchcockism, of the film director Alfred Hitchcock; Pratchettism, of the writer Terry Pratchett). Some denote a pathological condition: alcoholism, cretinism, embolism.

For related nouns and adjectives, see ‑ist.

Examples of words in -ism
In most cases, terms are based on English stems.


the practice of regularly staying away from work or school without good reason


the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change


a widespread Asian religion or philosophy


the faith and practice of the Roman Catholic Church


belief in the literal truth of the Biblical story of the creation of the world and living things


concern for the environment and active advocacy of its protection


the spreading of the Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness


a artistic movement which emphasized subjective emotional experience


the advocacy of women's rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes


a major religious and cultural tradition of the Indian subcontinent


the practice of forming or pursuing ideals, especially unrealistically


a policy of extending a country's power and influence through colonization, use of military force, or economic means


the monotheistic religion of the Jews


a political or social philosophy that favours political, civil, and personal liberty


the political and economic theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, especially as the basis for communism


patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts, often in an extreme form marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries


the faith and practice of the Protestant Churches


the belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others; discrimination or prejudice based on race


a late 18th century artistic movement, emphasizing inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of the individual


the animistic religion of some peoples of northern Asia and North America in which mediation between the visible and spirit worlds is effected by shamans


a Chinese philosophy based on the writings of Lao-tzu, advocating humility and religious piety


the use or involvement of volunteer labour, especially in community services in the USA


originally a movement for the re-establishment of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel; today its development and protection

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