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From physics +‎ -ist. Coined by the English polymath William Whewell (1794–1866) in his book The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1840): see the quotation.



physicist (plural physicists)

  1. A person whose occupation specializes in the science of physics, especially at a professional level.
    • 1840, William Whewell, “Aphorisms Concerning the Language of Science. Aphorism VI. When Common Words are Appropriated as Technical Terms, this Must be Done so that They are Not Ambiguous in Their Application.”, in The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Founded upon Their History. [], volume I, London: John W[illiam] Parker, []; Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: J. and J. J. Deighton, →OCLC, page lxxi:
      Thus we may say, that while the Naturalist employs principally the ideas of resemblance and life, the Physicist proceeds upon the ideas of force, matter, and the properties of matter.
    • 1961 February, R. K. Evans, “The role of research on British Railways”, in Trains Illustrated, page 95:
      Physicists find themselves called in to deal with such varied problems as the reduction of noise in diesel railcars, investigation of the Hertzian stresses set up by wheel-rail contact and improvement of the insulation of fish and banana vans.
  2. (archaic) A believer in the theory that the fundamental phenomena of life are to be explained upon purely chemical and physical principles (opposed to vitalist).

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