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
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….
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