sa·​dism | \ ˈsā-ˌdi-zəm How to pronounce sadism (audio) , ˈsa- \

Definition of sadism

1 : the derivation of sexual gratification from the infliction of physical pain or humiliation on another person — compare masochism, sadomasochism
2a : delight in cruelty
b : extreme cruelty

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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 sadism in a Sentence

a troubled youth with a streak of sadism in him
Recent Examples on the Web What started as casual brutality—class enemies forced to wear ridiculous dunce caps or stand in stress positions—degenerated into outright sadism. Barbara Demick, The Atlantic, "Uncovering the Cultural Revolution’s Awful Truths," 18 Dec. 2020 That ambient mirroring is familiar—think of the fatuous boomer triumphalism of the Clinton years, or George W. Bush’s blithe swaggering sadism, or Obama’s coolly virtuosic nihilism. David Roth, The New Republic, "The Littlest Prince," 17 Nov. 2020 There’s always been a steely, sinister edge to Connery’s screen presence, a hint of sadism beneath all his beauty, wit and physical grace. Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times, "Remembering Sean Connery: Our critics discuss his finest roles and that infamous Playboy interview," 31 Oct. 2020 Whatever the reason for the too-heavy dose — accident, hands shaking, sadism — there is no visual difference between that dose and a light one. Jesse Barron, New York Times, "What Happened Inside Ed Buck’s Apartment?," 16 Sep. 2020 The thief at the center of this dark little novel is likewise a would-be writer who sets out to appropriate the life of his graduate-school classmate—a stunt more than a little impelled by sadism—and the consequences are horrific. Miles Harvey, WSJ, "Five Best: Miles Harvey on Masters of Deception," 4 Sep. 2020 Her aesthetic of cream colors, goofy grins, and uplifting tears, along with her amusing displays of light sadism, have earned her a $330 million empire, a raft of Emmys, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, "The Mystery of Ellen DeGeneres," 23 Aug. 2020 Caligula, the Roman emperor best known for his profligacy, sadism, rumored incestuous relationships and unhealthy obsession with a horse, wasn’t exactly handsome. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, "Peer Into the Past With Photorealistic Portraits of Roman Emperors," 13 Aug. 2020 Pilarzik served a short time as camp commandant, replaced by Franz Josef Mueller, who was replaced by SS Commandant Amon Goeth, noted for his sadism. Fox News, "Family haunted by secret legacy of notorious Nazi Horst Pilarzik: 'By hiding him, they carried his guilt'," 1 Apr. 2020

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

1818, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for sadism

International Scientific Vocabulary, from Marquis de Sade

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Learn More about sadism

Statistics for sadism

Last Updated

12 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Sadism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Mar. 2021.

Style: MLA
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More Definitions for sadism



English Language Learners Definition of sadism

: enjoyment that someone gets from being violent or cruel or from causing pain especially : sexual enjoyment from hurting or punishing someone


sa·​dism | \ ˈsā-ˌdiz-əm How to pronounce sadism (audio) , ˈsad-ˌiz- How to pronounce sadism (audio) \

Medical Definition of sadism

: a sexual perversion in which gratification is obtained by the infliction of physical or mental pain on others (as on a love object) — compare algolagnia, masochism

Other Words from sadism

sadistic \ sə-​ˈdis-​tik also sā-​ or sa-​ \ adjective
sadistically \ -​ti-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce sadism (audio) \ adverb

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More from Merriam-Webster on sadism

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for sadism

Nglish: Translation of sadism for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about sadism

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