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Ism is derived from the Latin suffix -ismus and was originally meant to act as a suffix to denote a characteristic, tendency or syndrome. Because so many of these are now readily identifiable in our society, ism, and the plural isms have become words in their own right.
Isms turn up in a number of guises:
- A state or classification of being (eg organism).
- An attitude (eg pragmatism).
- A behaviour pattern associated with an attitude (eg vandalism).
- An act or process (eg baptism).
- A syndrome characteristic of a specific entity (eg botulism).
As you can see from the list above, isms are generally theories of existence or doctrines of living. This includes belief systems particular to social, corporate, educational or religious bodies. The following are schools of thought:
Isms can also be forms of art and expression as catalogued throughout human history and prehistory. These isms are usually expressed in order to set boundaries between different artistic interests. They attempt to categorize separate artistic endeavours by the style of the work, the centuries in which artists lived, their geographical location, or whether they made any money before or after the artist's death. Supposedly the styles of artists inside these ism boundaries have similarities. Close scrutiny of each artistic ism, combined with an overall study of art history as a whole, shows that there are no intrinsic similarities or differences between artists inside a given ism boundary that are any more or less significant than the similarities or differences between artists of differing isms, and it's all just another example of human beings incessantly trying to categorize things. Surrealism, Cubism, Minimalism, Expressionism, Impressionism, Fauvism, and Futurism are just a few examples.
A decade or so ago, an art movement known as Neoism achieved fashionable popularity among fringe interests, until it was realised that Neoism just meant 'new ism' and really had no cultural significance whatsoever. Neoism did shed light on the fact that no ism has any real cultural significance, but no one likes to think about things like that. Such revelations tend to cause feelings of worthlessness and headaches.
Finally, the suffix/word can be used simply to coin a phrase that the original utterer of said phrase wishes to see become a household term. For example, 'Can you tell what it is yet?' is a Rolfharrisism.
An interesting ism link: