Summer 2008 Linguistics Articles

Archives Home
Literary Magic: Current Issue
Articles on Words and Language
Short Stories and Plays
Book Reviews
Writer Spotlights
Literary Humor
Editor's Notes
Contest Winners


                           On the Suffix “Ism”

                                       By Rocky Reichman

      The English suffix -ism is prominent in our language. It is used to represent theories, states, ideas and processes. The process or state for activists is activism. In religion, some cultures use this suffix too. Buddhism, Judaism, Mormonism, (Sorry, no such word as Christianism.) Merriam-Webster provides multiple meanings for what the suffix -ism represents: a process; a state or condition; a doctrine or theory; a characteristic or peculiar feature or trait.

      -Ism comes from Middle English -isme, partly from Latin -ismus, from Greek -ismos; from verbs in -izein -ize (Merriam-Webster). “Ism” and “Ize” are from the same Greek root, -izein. But these parts of speech cannot be used for the same purposes. The difference? -Ize is a verb suffix, while -ism is a noun suffix.

      More “Isms” pop up every day. Most do not survive until maturity, but those that become popular enough become elegible for citizenship in the English lexicon. The book Today’s ISMS by Alan Ebenstein, William Ebenstein and Edwin Fogelman gives coverage of many Isms of modern day. But an Ism is not just a suffix. It does more than transform words, it symbolizes ideas. Idealogies, like Capitalism, Communism, or heroism. It is spreading too. Neologisms like Islamofascism, combining the word Islam with Fascism (which is already an “Ism”) and newly popularized phases like Terrorism are permeating our language.

      So far, “the study of words and language” has many names. Philology. Etymology. Linguistics. Grammar and Usage. Call it whatever suits your lexicon. As for me, I still think it is worth waiting for etymologists to get their own “Ism.” If I ever needed an “Ism” for positive thinking, now would be the time. Oh wait, there is one. It’s called….


Click here to read other Linguistics Articles.

Copyright 2005--2009 Literary Magic,