[ter-uh-riz-uh m]


the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.
the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

Origin of terrorism

First recorded in 1785–95; terror + -ism
Related formsan·ti·ter·ror·ism, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for terrorism

Contemporary Examples of terrorism

Historical Examples of terrorism

  • Terrorism tests aren't anywhere close to 99 percent accurate.

    Little Brother

    Cory Doctorow

  • Terrorism is expedient in Russia and inexpedient in Germany and England.


    Paul Eltzbacher

  • Terrorism and deception are weapons not of the strong but of the weak.

    Freedom's Battle

    Mahatma Gandhi

  • Terrorism is seen to be a relatively gentle procedure, useful to keep in a state of obedience the masses of the people.

  • Terrorism in ghastly forms is now a part of the German method of fighting the enemy.

British Dictionary definitions for terrorism



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

Word Origin and History for terrorism

1795, in specific sense of "government intimidation during the Reign of Terror in France" (March 1793-July 1794), from French terrorisme, from Latin terror (see terror).

If the basis of a popular government in peacetime is virtue, its basis in a time of revolution is virtue and terror -- virtue, without which terror would be barbaric; and terror, without which virtue would be impotent. [Robespierre, speech in French National Convention, 1794]

General sense of "systematic use of terror as a policy" is first recorded in English 1798. At one time, a word for a certain kind of mass-destruction terrorism was dynamitism (1883); and during World War I frightfulness (translating German Schrecklichkeit) was used in Britain for "deliberate policy of terrorizing enemy non-combatants."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

terrorism in Culture


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.