alien·​ist | \ ˈā-lē-ə-nist How to pronounce alienist (audio) , ˈāl-yə- \
plural alienists

Definition of alienist


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What is the Connection Between alienist and Alien?

Alienist looks and sounds like it should mean "someone who studies aliens," and in fact alienist and alien are related - both are ultimately derived from the Latin word alius, meaning "other." In the case of alienist, the etymological trail leads from Latin to French, where the adjective aliene ("insane") gave rise to the noun alieniste, referring to a doctor who treats the insane. Alienist first appeared in print in English in the 19th century. It was preceded by the other alius descendants, alien (14th century) and alienate (used as a verb since the early 16th century). Alienist is much rarer than psychiatrist these days, but at one time it was the preferred term.

Examples of alienist in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The most expensive show produced by TNT is based on Caleb Carr’s best-selling 1994 historical thriller about a psychiatrist (or alienist, as they were once called) in Gilded Age New York who tries to catch a serial killer. Gabe Cohn, New York Times, 22 Jan. 2018

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

First Known Use of alienist

1864, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for alienist

borrowed from French aliéniste, earlier as adjective in médecin aliéniste "doctor treating the mentally ill, psychiatrist," from aliéné "mentally ill person" (noun derivative from past participle of aliéner "to transfer to another's ownership, estrange, deprive of reason," going back to Middle French) + -iste -ist entry 2 — more at alien entry 3

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The first known use of alienist was in 1864

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Cite this Entry

“Alienist.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for alienist


alien·​ist | \ ˈā-lē-ə-nəst, ˈāl-yə- How to pronounce alienist (audio) \

Medical Definition of alienist



alien·​ist | \ ˈā-lē-ə-nist, ˈāl-yə- How to pronounce alienist (audio) \

Legal Definition of alienist

: a psychiatrist who specializes in the legal aspects of psychiatry (as determining sanity or capacity to stand trial)


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