Posted by: Jack Henry | June 8, 2017

Editor’s Corner: Words That End in -ist

A curious individual asked me why the suffix −ist sometimes identifies a person in a positive light (humanist) and sometimes in a negative light (terrorist). What a great question that I think many of us have wondered about.

When we think of this suffix in terms of negative and positive, we are diminishing its actual significance because there are a lot of neutral –ist words (and people), as well.

To illustrate that point, I’ll share the four definitions for –ist offered by The Free Dictionary:

· One that performs a specified action: lobbyist, novelist

· A specialist in a specified art, science, or skill: biologist

· An adherent or advocate of a specified doctrine, theory, or school of thought: anarchist

· One that is characterized by a specified trait or quality: romanticist

So, it isn’t accurate to think of –ist as either positive or negative (optimist or sexist). The suffix really just allows us to categorize people. We humans like categorizing and labeling, and this is one of the ways we do it. If you’re honest with yourself, you can likely think of negative, positive, and neutral ­–ist words to describe yourself. Here are some you might choose from (this is not a complete list—there are plenty more):

Antagonist Artist Atheist
Cartoonist Chauvinist Conformist
Cyclist Egoist Extortionist
Hairstylist Humorist Hypnotist
Illusionist Minimalist Mixologist
Moralist Narcissist Nationalist
Naturalist Nudist Opportunist
Pacifist Pragmatist Socialist
Soloist Specialist Tourist

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Extension: 765432

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