[ ter-uh-riz-uhm ]
/ ˈtɛr əˌrɪz əm /
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the unlawful use of violence or threats to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or government, with the goal of furthering political, social, or ideological objectives.
the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism.
a terrorist method of governing or of resisting a government.
intimidation or coercion by instilling fear: For many children, terrorism at school is a fact of life, even with antibullying policies in place.
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Origin of terrorism

First recorded in 1785–95; terror + -ism

usage note for terrorism

There is some consistency in the various definitions of terrorism adopted by U.S. government departments, agencies, and organizations, and by other Western democracies. It is generally agreed that terrorism, even against a very small segment of a civilian population, always involves a broader threat meant to instill fear in a larger community, thus requiring a response from the government. However, since September 11, 2001, the question of what actually constitutes a terrorist act has been the focus of emotionally and politically charged debates. Violent acts by white extremists have often been categorized as hate crimes, whereas similar acts by Muslims and Black people have been categorized as terrorism. The categorization often hinges on whether the perpetrators are tied to an organized group.


an·ti·ter·ror·ism, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022

How to use terrorism in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for terrorism

/ (ˈtɛrəˌrɪzəm) /

systematic use of violence and intimidation to achieve some goal
the act of terrorizing
the state of being terrorized
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

Cultural definitions for terrorism


Acts of violence committed by groups that view themselves as victimized by some notable historical wrong. Although these groups have no formal connection with governments, they usually have the financial and moral backing of sympathetic governments. Typically, they stage unexpected attacks on civilian targets, including embassies and airliners, with the aim of sowing fear and confusion. Israel has been a frequent target of terrorism, but the United States has increasingly become its main target. (See also September 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, Hezbollah, and Basque region.)

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.