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 Ledger and Phoenix delved into the character’s maniacal sadism to deliver particularly unnerving performances. Washington Post, "‘Joker,’ explained: How the movie went from divisive debut to Oscars darling," 13 Jan. 2020 In other deaths initially blamed on Halloween sadism, medical investigators found far less nefarious explanations. Beth Mole, Ars Technica, "Forget poisoned candy and razor blades. Here’s the real Halloween horror," 28 Oct. 2019 If her female characters had ever seemed to lack agency, here was the compelling context: male sadism. Ian Parker, The New Yorker, "Edna O’Brien Is Still Writing About Women on the Run," 7 Oct. 2019 Laaksonen included scenes of kink and bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism in his work. R. Daniel Foster, Los Angeles Times, "An L.A. home where homoerotic artist Tom of Finland lived is a shrine to his legacy," 2 Oct. 2019 In the Hulu Handmaid’s adaptation by Bruce Miller, now in its third season, Lydia is a formidable creature played by the astonishing Ann Dowd, a character who fluctuates disorientingly between zealotry, empathy, and ritualized sadism. Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic, "The Challenge of Margaret Atwood," 5 Sep. 2019 Instead of thrilling to descriptions of panic and descents into sadism, the public today must content itself with stories of ice-bucket plunges and collaborative videogames. Noam Cohen, WIRED, "Beware the Epiphany-Industrial Complex," 19 Aug. 2019 Instead of falling silent at this wanton display of official sadism, the democracy movement soon flared into a full-fledged armed rebellion. Brian Stewart, National Review, "For Sama: A Chronicle of the Syrian Tragedy," 10 Aug. 2019 The trial has focused attention on the couple’s shared interest in BDSM, or bondage, domination, sadism and masochism, which both have said played a role in their relationship. Washington Post, "Testimony of former Taliban hostage Joshua Boyle adds to questions about his relationship with American wife," 7 Sep. 2019

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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Time Traveler for sadism

Time Traveler

The first known use of sadism was in 1818

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Statistics for sadism

Last Updated

27 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Sadism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for sadism


How to pronounce sadism (audio)

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 sadistically (audio) \ adverb

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More from Merriam-Webster on sadism

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for sadism

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with sadism

Spanish Central: Translation of sadism

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

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