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a suffix appearing in loanwords from Greek, where it was used to form action nouns from verbs (baptism); on this model, used as a productive suffix in the formation of nouns denoting action or practice, state or condition, principles, doctrines, a usage or characteristic, devotion or adherence, etc. (criticism; barbarism; Darwinism; despotism; plagiarism; realism; witticism; intellectualism).
Compare -ist, -ize.
Origin of -ism
< Greek -ismos, -isma noun suffixes, often directly, often through Latin -ismus, -isma, sometimes through French -isme, German -ismus (all ultimately < Gk) Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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British Dictionary definitions for -ism


indicating an action, process, or result: criticism, terrorism
indicating a state or condition: paganism
indicating a doctrine, system, or body of principles and practices: Leninism, spiritualism
indicating behaviour or a characteristic quality: heroism
indicating a characteristic usage, esp of a language: colloquialism, Scotticism
indicating prejudice on the basis specified: sexism, ageism
Word Origin
from Old French -isme, from Latin -ismus, from Greek -ismos
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for -ism

suffix forming nouns of action, state, condition, doctrine, from French -isme or directly from Latin -isma, -ismus, from Greek -isma, from stem of verbs in -izein. Used as an independent word, chiefly disparagingly, from 1670s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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-ism in Medicine

-ism suff.

  1. Action, process; practice: vegetarianism.

  2. Characteristic behavior or quality: puerilism.

  3. State; condition; quality: senilism.

  4. State or condition resulting from an excess of something specified: strychninism.

  5. Doctrine; theory; system of principles: Darwinism.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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