im·​pe·​ri·​al·​ism | \ im-ˈpir-ē-ə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce imperialism (audio) \

Definition of imperialism

1 : the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and dominion of a nation especially by direct territorial acquisitions or by gaining indirect control over the political or economic life of other areas broadly : the extension or imposition of power, authority, or influence union imperialism
2 : imperial government, authority, or system

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Other Words from imperialism

imperialist \ im-​ˈpir-​ē-​ə-​list How to pronounce imperialist (audio) \ noun or adjective
imperialistic \ im-​ˌpir-​ē-​ə-​ˈli-​stik How to pronounce imperialistic (audio) \ adjective
imperialistically \ im-​ˌpir-​ē-​ə-​ˈli-​sti-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce imperialistically (audio) \ adverb

Linguistic Roots of Imperialism

The original meaning of imperialism was a simple one: "imperial government," that is, empire in the classical sense (such as existed in ancient Rome, China, and Greece). In more recent times, imperialism has become synonymous with western hegemony in Africa and Asia from the 18th through the 20th centuries and with the spreading cultural influence of the United States. Formerly implying military and governmental dominance, the word today is often invoked in a wider variety of contexts, such as cultural imperialism, media imperialism, and economic imperialism. And while there has been considerable debate about net the effects of western dominance in other parts of the world, in its current use, imperialism often carries a negative connotation.

Examples of imperialism in a Sentence

British imperialism created the enormous British Empire.
Recent Examples on the Web Hong Kong pupils study that period rather briefly, spending more time on the years when Japanese nationalism led to violent imperialism, including Japan’s brutal occupation of swathes of China in the 1930s and 1940s. The Economist, "Chaguan Educational freedom is under assault in Hong Kong," 23 May 2020 Steeped in the Cold War and 20th century Japanese imperialism, Pak synthesizes historical and present-day geopolitics into a particularly valuable introduction for a general readership and Korea watchers alike. Lucy Tiven, Los Angeles Times, "Review: Getting to know Kim Jong Un, dead or alive," 7 May 2020 But this is exactly the sort of conversation that’s been de rigueur in music criticism for the last couple of decades, especially when compounded by the film’s other plot throughline, the impending imperialism of the Rock Trolls. Jon Caramanica, New York Times, "‘Trolls World Tour,’ a Kids’ Music Movie, Has Big Problems With Pop," 15 Apr. 2020 A few months later, Donald Trump was elected president, largely in reaction to the progressive moral imperialism chronicled in Mr. Levin’s book. Barton Swaim, WSJ, "‘A Time to Build’ Review: When All of Politics Is a Stage," 17 Jan. 2020 Though its roots were in the nation’s deepest past, the Japanese aesthetic of absence grew over the course of the twentieth century as a response to Western imperialism and the pressures of capitalist and industrialist globalization. Kyle Chayka, Harper's magazine, "Being in Nothingness," 25 Nov. 2019 Kreisman, an officer in the Portland Democratic Socialists of America and board member of Portland Tenants United who is a trans woman, has rallied for causes including anti-imperialism, trans visibility and renters’ rights. oregonlive, "Southeast Portland lawmaker with track record as labor activist faces challenge from labor-backed newcomer," 12 May 2020 Many journalists there chalked up Life’s report — and the stories that followed, including a Life cover story about Da Silva’s medical treatment in Denver — to U.S. paternalism and imperialism. Los Angeles Times, "Flavio da Silva, photographed as a boy in Brazil’s favelas, on the images that outraged," 19 July 2019 For example, while Spencer’s ideas were used to justify imperialism and conquest, Francis notes that Spencer himself was committed to pacifism, including his vocal opposition to Britain’s participation in the Boer War. Dan Falk, Smithsonian Magazine, "The Complicated Legacy of Herbert Spencer, the Man Who Coined ‘Survival of the Fittest’," 29 Apr. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'imperialism.' 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 imperialism

1684, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for imperialism

imperial entry 1 + -ism

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Time Traveler for imperialism

Time Traveler

The first known use of imperialism was in 1684

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Statistics for imperialism

Last Updated

3 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Imperialism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for imperialism


How to pronounce imperialism (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of imperialism

: a policy or practice by which a country increases its power by gaining control over other areas of the world
: the effect that a powerful country or group of countries has in changing or influencing the way people live in other, poorer countries

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