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01:00 Fri 11th Jan 2002 |

Q. What's an 'ism'

A. The suffix -ism made its way into English from the French -isme, itself derived from the Latin -ismus, and it's used to denote a characteristic, a tendency or a syndrome. Because so many of these ism words have pervaded the language it, and its plural isms, have, since the late 17th century, become words in their own right - though they are usually used in a derogatory sense to denote any form of doctrine or practice claiming to have a distinctive character, especially when self-importance is suspected.

Q. So, what categories of -ism do we have

A. There are five main types:

An act or process or its result, e.g. baptism and criticism

A behaviour pattern associated with an attitude or group of people, e.g. vandalism, heroism and patriotism

A condition of being, e.g. alcoholism and barbarism

Adherence to a particular cause or belief, e.g. Darwinism, Buddhism and hedonism

A syndrome characteristic of a specific nation or individual, e.g. Americanism and Spoonerism

Q.�Generally theories of existence or doctrines of living, then

A. Pretty much, and this includes belief systems particular to social, corporate, educational or religious bodies, and can embody some quite abstract concepts, such as Idealism, Modernism, Socialism, Capitalism, Monotheism, Atheism and Neo-Platonism.

Q. What about art movements

A. The arts are chock-full of isms used to categorise separate artistic endeavours by the style of the work, the centuries in which artists lived and their geographical location. In this sense the suggestion is that the work of the artists or authors included any given ism have enough similarities for them to be grouped together. Examples of this are Surrealism, Cubism, Minimalism, Expressionism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, Fauvism and Futurism.

Q. And Neoism

A. At the end of the last century, an art movement known as Neoism achieved a certain fashionable status, until it was realised that Neoism just meant 'new ism' and really had no cultural significance whatsoever. A classic example of Postmodernism

Q. Anything else

A. The suffix can be used simply to coin a proprietary term, particularly with regard to ascribing a catchphrase or saying to a given individual. An example of this would be 'Shut that door' being dubbed a Larrygraysonism. You can make them up yourself.

Q. Finally, isn't there a 'wasm'

A. Yes. It's an ism which has gone out of fashion. It's in the dictionary, honest.

For more on Phrases & Sayings click here

By Simon Smith

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