pu·​gi·​lism ˈpyü-jə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce pugilism (audio)
pugilistic adjective

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The sport of boxing had its Olympic initiation more than 2,500 years ago in the 23rd Olympiad of 688 BCE. The ancient Romans adopted the sport from the Greeks, and we adopted the word pugilism from them: the Latin word pugil means "boxer." (The word is related to the Latin pugnus, meaning "fist.") Boxing faded out with the decline of the Roman Empire, but resurged in popularity in the 18th century. By the century's end, pugilist and pugilism were firmly entrenched in the English lexicon, and pugilism now sees additional use in reference to metaphorical sparring, as in a political debate.

Examples of pugilism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The ancient art of pugilism has been relatively untouched by time, retaining its raw appeal and primal energy. Oleksandr Usyk, Forbes, 13 Nov. 2023 While Trump—and the growing roster of imitators attempting to snatch his crown in the party’s nascent presidential primary—built his political base around pugilism, vulgarity, and an authoritarian fixation on enemies both real and perceived, Hogan projected a down-to-earth and responsible mien. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 7 Mar. 2023 The minority didn’t exactly assign its most conciliatory and pugilism-averse members, either. Dallas News, 6 Feb. 2023 Two months after former President Donald Trump announced his presidential bid, this past weekend marked the first featuring the real trappings of a campaign — early-state travel and intra-party pugilism. Ben Kamisar, NBC News, 30 Jan. 2023 Irvin, back to pugilism for a second, asks rhetorically. Nate Davis, USA TODAY, 19 Jan. 2023 The way to win the heart of Americans is not to double down on contempt and pugilism but rather to become the party of ordinary people, with ordinary people as leaders who promote greater unity and happiness. Arthur C. Brooks, The Atlantic, 16 Nov. 2022 But to the surprise of pugilism pundits worldwide, Álvarez slipped. Sean Gregory, Time, 17 Sep. 2022 Healey’s time in office has been best known for her pugilism against Trump over everything from his initial travel ban to efforts to roll back environmental protections. Matt Stout, BostonGlobe.com, 6 Sep. 2022 See More

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

Word History


Latin pugil boxer; akin to Latin pugnus fist — more at pungent

First Known Use

1789, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of pugilism was in 1789


Dictionary Entries Near pugilism

Cite this Entry

“Pugilism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pugilism. Accessed 6 Dec. 2023.

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