[mag-ni-tiz-uh m]
See more synonyms for magnetism on
  1. the properties of attraction possessed by magnets; the molecular properties common to magnets.
  2. the agency producing magnetic phenomena.
  3. the science dealing with magnetic phenomena.
  4. strong attractive power or charm: Everyone succumbed to the magnetism of his smile.

Origin of magnetism

From the New Latin word magnētismus, dating back to 1610–20. See magnet, -ism Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for magnetism


  1. the property of attraction displayed by magnets
  2. any of a class of phenomena in which a field of force is caused by a moving electric chargeSee also electromagnetism, ferromagnetism, diamagnetism, paramagnetism
  3. the branch of physics concerned with magnetic phenomena
  4. powerful attraction
Derived Formsmagnetist, noun
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

Word Origin and History for magnetism

1610s, from Modern Latin magnetismus (see magnet + -ism). Figurative sense of "personal charm" is from 1650s; in the hypnotic sense it is from Mesmer (see mesmerize). Meaning "science of magnetics" is recorded from early 19c.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

magnetism in Science


  1. The properties or effects of magnetic fields.
  2. The force produced by a magnetic field. See more at magnetic field.
A Closer Look: Magnetism is intimately linked with electricity, in that a magnetic field is established whenever electric charges are in motion, as in the flow of electrons in a wire, or the movement of electrons around an atomic nucleus. In atoms, this invisible field consists of closed loops called lines of force that surround and run through the atom. Magnetic regions where lines of force come together densely are called north and south poles. In substances in which the magnetic fields of each atom are aligned, the magnetic field causes the entire substance to act like single magnet-with north and south poles and a surrounding magnetic field. Permanent magnets are made of substances that retain this alignment. If a magnet is cut in two, each piece becomes a separate magnet with two poles. A coil of wire wrapped around an iron core can be made magnetic by running electric current through it; the looping electrons then create a magnetic field in just the same way as the spinning electrons in individual atoms. As long as current flows, the coil remains magnetized. Such magnets, called electromagnets, are used in many devices such as doorbells and switches. The connection between electric and magnetic fields is not one of cause and effect, however. Einstein showed that both the magnetic and electric fields are part of a single electromagnetic field, described by a single mathematical object called a tensor. Observers in different reference frames will not observe the same separate values for electric and magnetic fields, but will observe identical electromagnetic tensors. Whether or not magnetic monopoles (elementary particles carrying an isolated north or south magnetic “charge,” analogous to positive or negative electric charge) actually exist remains unknown; though they are predicted by some theories, none have been detected.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

magnetism in Culture


A fundamental property of some materials (for example, iron) and electrical currents (see also current) by which they are capable of exerting a force on magnets. (See electromagnet, magnet, and magnetic field.)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.