\ˈi-zəm \

Definition of ism 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory

2 : an oppressive and especially discriminatory attitude or belief we all have got to come to grips with our isms— Joycelyn Elders

Definition of -ism (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : act : practice : process criticism plagiarism

b : manner of action or behavior characteristic of a (specified) person or thing animalism

c : prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a (specified) attribute racism sexism

2a : state : condition : property barbarianism

b : abnormal state or condition resulting from excess of a (specified) thing alcoholism or marked by resemblance to (such) a person or thing giantism

3a : doctrine : theory : religion Buddhism

b : adherence to a system or a class of principles stoicism

4 : characteristic or peculiar feature or trait colloquialism

Examples of ism in a Sentence


Cubism, Impressionism, and other artistic isms. ageism, racism, sexism, and all the other familiar isms

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

She was challenged by sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), who had her own knee-jerk reactions based on knee-jerk PC-isms. Lorraine Ali,, "With a racist tweet, Roseanne Barr not only lost a job but also silenced a vital voice: Roseanne Conner's," 30 May 2018 After sharing some fond memories, Colbert took the opportunity to have the world’s most famous drag queen personally explain some Ru-isms. Tracy Brown,, "RuPaul gives Stephen Colbert a lesson in 'Drag Race' vocabulary," 25 Jan. 2018 Journal-isms is originally published on Richard Prince, The Root, "Obama Was More Aware of Racism Than We Saw," 27 June 2018 The hypocrisy and do-nothing-ism doesn't stop there. Jill Filipovic, Cosmopolitan, "Republican Lawmakers Are Human Shrug Emojis," 27 Feb. 2018 All of this was before Murphy gave the world anthology series American Horror Story, which Murphy could use as a playground for all of his most Murphy-isms., "The Hallmarks Of A Ryan Murphy Show," 4 June 2018 Rather, after some staff turnover and soul-searching, television, podcast, sketch, stand-up and social media satirists became a powerful point of contrast to the both-sides-ism that has plagued mainstream political media. Dan Jakes, Chicago Reader, "The Deckchairs can't make American political comedy great again," 15 June 2018 Kevin Ollie was so businesslike, an NBA lifer who, past all the Ollie-isms that refueled passion back in 2012, really wanted to be left alone. Mike Anthony,, "Mike Anthony: Dan Hurley Cool In Public, About To Bring Heat To Gym," 31 May 2018 There’s nothing says the business cycle has to be only focused on short term-ism. Recode Staff, Recode, "Full video and transcript: U.S. Senator Mark Warner at Code 2018," 30 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of ism


1680, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for ism



Noun suffix

Middle English -isme, from Middle French & Latin; Middle French, partly from Latin -isma (from Greek) & partly from Latin -ismus, from Greek -ismos; Greek -isma & -ismos, from verbs in -izein -ize

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Last Updated

31 Oct 2018

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The first known use of ism was in 1680

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English Language Learners Definition of ism

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a belief, attitude, style, etc., that is referred to by a word that ends in the suffix -ism

English Language Learners Definition of -ism (Entry 2 of 2)

: the act, practice, or process of doing something

: behavior like that of a specified kind of person or thing

: unfair treatment of a group of people who have a particular quality


Kids Definition of -ism

1 : act : practice : process baptism criticism

2 : manner of action or behavior like that of a specified person or thing heroism

3 : state : condition alcoholism

4 : teachings : theory : system socialism

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