mas·​och·​ism ˈma-sə-ˌki-zəm How to pronounce masochism (audio) ˈma-zə- How to pronounce masochism (audio)
 also  ˈmā-
: the derivation of sexual gratification from being subjected to physical pain or humiliation by oneself or another person compare sadism, sadomasochism
: pleasure in being abused or dominated : a taste for suffering

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What is the Difference Between the Words masochism & sadism?

Masochism and sadism are both about the enjoyment of pain. Masochism refers to the enjoyment of experiencing pain while sadism refers to the enjoyment of inflicting pain on someone else.

Interestingly, both masochism and sadism are eponymous words. English has thousands of such words, taken from the names of people both real and fictional. Masochism comes from the name of the 19th century German novelist, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. It is unusual in that it began to be used during the lifetime of the man from whom it originated (Sacher-Masoch died in 1895, and masochism had been in printed use since 1892). Sadism comes from the name of the French writer, the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814).

The two words are not only often encountered in connection with one another, they have been combined into a single word, sadomasochism.

Examples of masochism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web As a countermeasure, the Democrats have embarked on an experiment in political masochism that would have made George McGovern blush. Daniel Foster, National Review, 30 Nov. 2023 Now, Acworth is working with engineers to train an image-generation model on pictures of BDSM, an acronym for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. Tatum Hunter, Washington Post, 25 Feb. 2024 Novak describes her time doing improv as a form of masochism. Carrie Battan, The New Yorker, 15 Jan. 2024 But there’s also a strong current of schadenfreude and emotional masochism involved in watching The Prison Confessions of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, especially coming on the heels of like-minded docs and series. Chris Vognar, Rolling Stone, 6 Jan. 2024 Images: Reuters/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly Tuesday’s ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was a spectacular exercise in Republican masochism, and some in the party are increasingly confused about national defense too. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 4 Oct. 2023 The acronym stands for bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism. Dominique Fluker, Essence, 7 Sep. 2023 But rooting for the middling Wizards takes guts at best and is downright masochism at worst. Ken Budd, The Atlantic, 26 Oct. 2022 There’s a masochism to starting and scaling a company that favors founders who can delay gratification and go through unbelievable difficulty in the process. Leslie Feinzaig, Fortune, 14 Mar. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'masochism.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from German Masochismus, from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch †1895 Austrian fiction writer and journalist + -ismus -ism

Note: The German noun was coined by Richard von krafft-ebing, probably first in Neue Forschungen auf dem Gebiet der Psychopathia sexualis (Stuttgart, 1890), p. 1 ff. Krafft-Ebing describes the coinage as follows: "Diese im folgenden zu besprechenden Perversionen der Vita sexualis mögen Masochismus genannt werden, da der bekannte Romanschriftsteller Sacher Masoch in zahlreichen seiner Romanen, ganz besonders in seiner bekannten "Die Venus im Pelz", diese eigene Art der sexuellen Perversion zum Lieblingsgegenstand seiner Schriften gemacht hat." ("The perversions of sexual life to be discussed in what follows may be named masochism, as the well-known novelist Sacher Masoch has made this particular type of sexual perversion a favorite object of his writing in a number of his novels, especially in his well-known Venus in Fur.") The same passage appears in the article "Ueber Masochismus," in the Wiener Medizinische Blätter, No. 52 (December 25, 1890), p. 817.

First Known Use

1892, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of masochism was in 1892

Dictionary Entries Near masochism

Cite this Entry

“Masochism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Jun. 2024.

Medical Definition


mas·​och·​ism ˈmas-ə-ˌkiz-əm How to pronounce masochism (audio) ˈmaz- How to pronounce masochism (audio)
: a sexual perversion characterized by pleasure in being subjected to pain or humiliation especially by a love object compare algolagnia, sadism
masochistic adjective
masochistically adverb

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