cler·​i·​sy | \ ˈkler-ə-sē How to pronounce clerisy (audio) , ˈkle-ri- \

Definition of clerisy

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English philosopher-poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) believed that if humanity was to flourish, it was necessary to create a secular organization of learned individuals, "whether poets, or philosophers, or scholars" to "diffuse through the whole community … that quantity and quality of knowledge which was indispensable." Coleridge named this hypothetical group the clerisy, a term he adapted from Klerisei, a German word for clergy (in preference, it seems, to the Russian term intelligentsia which we borrowed later, in the early 1900s). Coleridge may have equated clerisy with an old sense of clergy meaning "learning" or "knowledge," which by his time was used only in the proverb "an ounce of mother wit is worth a pound of clergy."

Examples of clerisy in a Sentence

a society lacking a well-established clerisy with a strong commitment to democratic ideals
Recent Examples on the Web Meanwhile, at school, the clerisy is enlisting children in a campaign to expose heretics and unbelievers. Meghan Cox Gurdon, WSJ, "Review: Philip Pullman Returns to Lyra’s Oxford in ‘The Book of Dust’," 18 Oct. 2017 Only those the board licenses are admitted to the clerisy uniquely entitled to publicly discuss engineering. George Will, Twin Cities, "George Will: Engineering without a license," 13 June 2017

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

First Known Use of clerisy

1818, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for clerisy

German Klerisei clergy, from Medieval Latin clericia, from Late Latin clericus cleric

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The first known use of clerisy was in 1818

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Cite this Entry

“Clerisy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Sep. 2020.

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