Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search

How about prism, astigmatism, schism, and catechism, were they formed by adding the '-ism' suffix? Bennylin 11:11, 12 August 2009 (UTC)

No. —Stephen 02:02, 13 August 2009 (UTC)

History of the term[edit]

The first recorded usage of the suffix ism as a separate word in its own right was in 1680. By the nineteenth century it was being used by w:Thomas Carlyle to signify a pre-packaged ideology. It was later used in this sense by such writers as w:Julian Huxley and w:George Bernard Shaw. In the United States of the mid-nineteenth century, the phrase "the isms" was used as a collective derogatory term to lump together the radical social reform movements of the day (such as slavery abolitionism, feminism, alcohol prohibitionism, Fourierism, pacifism, early socialism, etc.) and various spiritual or religious movements considered non-mainstream by the standards of the time (such as Transcendentalism, spiritualism or "spirit rapping", Mormonism, the Oneida movement often accused of "free love", etc.). Southerners often prided themselves on the American South being free from all of these pernicious "Isms" (except for alcohol temperance campaigning, which was compatible with a traditional Protestant focus on strict individual morality). So on September 5 and 9 1856, the Examiner newspaper of Richmond, Virginia ran editorials on "Our Enemies, the Isms and their Purposes", while in 1858 "Parson" Brownlow called for a "Missionary Society of the South, for the Conversion of the Freedom Shriekers, Spiritualists, Free-lovers, Fourierites, and Infidel Reformers of the North" (see The Freedom-of-thought Struggle in the Old South by Clement Eaton). In the present day, it appears in the title of a standard survey of political thought, Today's ISMS by William Ebenstein, first published in the 1950s, and now in its 11th edition.

Etymology vs morphology[edit]

The examples chosen should reflect most likely actual etymology.

A word like baptism cannot be said to have been formed by adding -ism to a stem "bapt" in English. There was a Middle English word bapteme derived from an Old French word which was derived ultimately from a latin word baptismus, in turn derived from Ancient Greek. What seems to have occurred in English is that the form reverted to a form close to the Latin under the influence of the Latin liturgy. "-ism" was not a productive suffix in English in this case.

Even in more recent cases, French may have created a form ending in -isme which English is likely to have borrowed rather than morphologically adding -ism to an existing English term.

It is somewhat useful for users to understand that -ism reflects a suffix that was productive in another language in some cases and is productive in English in other cases. It is sometimes useful to know whether the suffix is still productive in English. DCDuring TALK 02:06, 16 September 2009 (UTC)

As to the other terms

  1. *chauvinism French
    conservatism (from conservative)
    *Cubism French
    feminism (from feminine)
     ?liberalism unclear whether earlier Fr attestation means Fr origin
     ?Marxism (coined after Karl Marx) French coinage 5 years before
     ???masculism (from masculus, Latin for male) questionable term.
    *alphabetism (from alphabet) French
     ???nationism (from nation) questionable term
    *racism (from race) French predates by 30 years
    religionism (from religion)
    *sexism (from sex) French predates by 20 years
    sexualism (from sexuality)
    ableism (from able)
    heterosexism (from heterosexual)
    *heroism (from hero) French
    Shakespeareanism (coined after William Shakespeare)
    autism (from autós, Greek for "self")
10 OK
6 terms with French use significantly before English
2 with French use shortly before English
1 questionable terms

-- DCDuring TALK 02:44, 16 September 2009 (UTC)


Originally it was used as a suffix to make a noun out of a verb, but later writers took this form to define theories based on specific words, or phrases, which could be nouns, adjectives or verbs. Beliefs are often defined by "-isms". Above are plenty of examples. Conversely, the suffix "-ology" has a similar but more factual use. It connotes "a methodical study of". ref What does things ending in "ism" mean? - Yahoo!7 Answers /ref

(I would like to add the above paragraph to the "entry." But since this is Wiktionary and not Wikipedia, I don't know if it is appropriate. Please give feedback.)

Its all relatives 09:55, 1 December 2009 (UTC)

RFV discussion[edit]

TK archive icon.svg

The following discussion has been moved from Wiktionary:Requests for verification.

This discussion is no longer live and is left here as an archive. Please do not modify this conversation, but feel free to discuss its conclusions.

Rfv-sense X 2:

  1. the action of a verb. Sole example given was "baptism", ultimately from Greek, via Latin and Old French.
  2. a disorder. Sole example given was "autism", which is actually from German.

This is all too typical of our suffix entries. I doubt that having such senses even helps someone figure out much about the meaning of "baptism" or "autism". Of course attempted coinage is likely to fail if they are as unproductive or minimally productive in these senses as I think they are. DCDuring TALK 00:01, 3 September 2010 (UTC)

Offhand, I can think of a few other disorder names ending in -ism, including hypo- and hyperthyroidism, dwarfism, gi(g)antism, and botulism. Do any of them support that sense? —RuakhTALK 00:14, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
dwarfism and giantism seem to be English formations. gigantism is predated by gigantisme#French (2 centuries). botulism is from German. Probably the thyroidisms are good too. Thanks. DCDuring TALK 00:46, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
For the other sense, presumably fertile ground would among verbs ending in "ise" or "ize". But, say, "historicism" doesn't seem right semantically relative to "historiciz/se". DCDuring TALK 00:56, 3 September 2010 (UTC)

Striking. Nominator seems satisfied about the "disorder" sense. I'll list the "action of a verb" sense at RFD. —RuakhTALK 19:30, 16 January 2011 (UTC)

Disputes etc.[edit]

In discussions or even disputes on lemmas, especially when discussing your own language, the most important thing is basing all discussion on quotable references. A textbook example of how not to do things is exhibited at the top of the page:

How about prism, astigmatism, schism, and catechism, were they formed by adding th  '-ism' suffix? Bennylin 11:11, 12 August 2009 (UTC)
  No. —Stephen 02:02, 13 August 2009 (UTC) 

A step in the right direction is the reference to Yahoo Answers later on (December 2009). But the "RFV discussion" seems once again to be based, on all sides, on the ad hoc pondering of one's own language. This will not do at all. Such reflections are useful to get an initial feeling for the problem, but it will be absolutely necessary to then go and consult the relevant dictionaries. In this case, OED. I find it difficult to understand why people spend time arguing instead of consulting OED first and then arguing within that framework if (and only if) competing presentations are found in other dictionaries.

Now, the way things stand is that OED accepts formations imported whole from Latin/French (baptism, agonism, aphorism). This is perfectly reasonable, as the morphology is transparent within English.

OED does not recognize a separate sense of "disorders", but lists these words as simple examples of the larger class of "condition of a person or thing". --Dbachmann 11:02, 23 May 2011 (UTC)

The most difficult bit is this (quoting OED):

  • sense 2.a.: "Forming the name of a system of theory or practice, religious, ecclesiastical, philosophical, political, social, etc., sometimes founded on the name of its subject or object, sometimes on that of its founder."
  • sense 2.b.: "class-names or descriptive terms, for doctrines or principle"

we are here suffering from the fact that Wiktionary does not usually list semantic fields hierarchically, with "main meanings" (1,2,...) and "sub-meanings" (2a, 2b,...).

OED recognizes that these two sub-meanings cannot be cleanly separated, but nevertheless form two identifiable classes. It seems to suggest that capitalization indicates 2a. I.e. Liberalism, Conservatism is listed under 2a along with Protestantism and Positivism. But realism, idealism, feminism, fanaticism etc. are listed under 2b. It stands to reason that liberalism vs. Liberalism would separate into 2b vs. 2a, but of course the boundaries will be fluid. Compare:

"In the days and weeks after the election[...]polls of all parties were busy reanalyzing Liberalism's success."
"The Western democracies, whose systems are all variants of liberalism, though a liberalism which had come to accept a large degree of redistributive social support."

--Dbachmann 11:31, 23 May 2011 (UTC)

Deletion debate[edit]

Keep tidy.svg

The following information has failed Wiktionary's deletion process.

It should not be re-entered without careful consideration.


Sense "the action or result of a verb". Was listed at RFV for several months in search of examples; the only one was baptism, which isn't a great example in that it's a wholesale borrowing (and not formed from, say, baptize +‎ -ism). I think we should just delete this unless people come up with more examples, but even if we keep it, I don't think it should be listed first. —RuakhTALK 19:33, 16 January 2011 (UTC)

I can only think of one other catechism, but I see that that also comes from Greek -ismos. 19:47, 16 January 2011 (UTC)

closed, looks like this has been removed a while ago already. -- Liliana 20:56, 25 September 2011 (UTC)


I've noticed two minor issues:

  • The article seems to contradict itself about the origin of Judaism. Is it a loanword from Greek, or is it a learned English formation based on Latin, coined ca. 1500? It cannot be both, but the text fails to acknowledge the contradiction.
  • The term dwarfism does not seem to fit into the doctrine section.

(Neither dwarfism nor autism fit into the medicinal section, though.) --Florian Blaschke (talk) 23:29, 30 December 2013 (UTC)