cler·​i·​sy ˈkler-ə-sē How to pronounce clerisy (audio)

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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."

Example Sentences

a society lacking a well-established clerisy with a strong commitment to democratic ideals
Recent Examples on the Web Democrats and the public-health clerisy denounced President Trump for rushing Covid vaccines. Allysia Finley, WSJ, 4 Sep. 2022 They are ruled by a grizzled and sclerotic clerisy that funnels resources to its private army, the terrorist Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Matthew Continetti, National Review, 24 Sep. 2022 All will be forgiven and forgotten by the clerisy of the moment. Barton Swaim, WSJ, 18 July 2021 The public-health clerisy also set boundaries for allowable discussion. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 26 May 2021 Rather, grace is bestowed by a racial-equity clerisy that undercuts its own power by doing so. Daniel Lee, WSJ, 12 Mar. 2021 Meanwhile, at school, the clerisy is enlisting children in a campaign to expose heretics and unbelievers. Meghan Cox Gurdon, WSJ, 18 Oct. 2017 Only those the board licenses are admitted to the clerisy uniquely entitled to publicly discuss engineering. George Will, Twin Cities, 13 June 2017 See More

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.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1818, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of clerisy was in 1818


Dictionary Entries Near clerisy

Cite this Entry

“Clerisy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Dec. 2022.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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