Who Coined the Term Fashionista?

In light of a recent article about the birth of the word “fashionista” in which Stephen Fried apologized for coining the term, we’d like to delve into the -ista suffix in hopes of understanding why English speakers combine it with certain words.

But first, let’s look at “fashionista.” This word originally appeared in Stephen Fried’s 1993 biography of supermodel Gia Carangi. He invented it as a way to refer to the entourage surrounding supermodels at a photo shoot. The “fashion” portion of term is obvious. Less obvious is the “-ista” part. Fried said that he stumbled upon that particular suffix while researching his 1993 book. He had been reading a lot of late ’70s and early ’80s newspapers and magazines in order to write about the life of Gia Carangi, and he kept seeing articles about Sandinistas, followers of the Nicaraguan political party.

The –ista suffix comes to English from Latin. The derived English variant of this suffix is –ist, used in words like “machinist,” “apologist,” “Darwinist,” and “novelist.” These types of words describe a person in relation to an activity, item, principle, or doctrine. The Spanish version of this suffix, –ista, became fashionable in English in the 1970s due to heavy news coverage of Latin-American revolutionary movements.

Perhaps Fried gravitated to the –ista suffix to infuse his description of fashion professionals with a dose of exoticism. The high-fashion industry is an international one, and adding a suffix like –ista to the end of the word in favor of the typical English construction has the effect of elevating the term to a sophisticated foreign status. Take the term “barista,” for example. It entered English in the 1980s at a time when the –ista suffix was becoming well-known to English speakers. Calling coffee-shop employees “baristas” certainly gives the job a certain artisanal flair.

Whatever Fried’s intentions were in coining “fashionista,” he has now officially apologized for his “crime against nomenclature.” Do you like the –ista suffix? What are your favorite (or least favorite) recent –ista words? Let us know with your comments.