a suffix appearing in loanwords from Greek, where it was used to form action nouns from verbs (baptism ); on this model, used as a productive suffix in the formation of nouns denoting action or practice, state or condition, principles, doctrines, a usage or characteristic, devotion or adherence, etc. (criticism; barbarism; Darwinism; despotism; plagiarism; realism; witticism; intellectualism ).
Compare -ist, -ize.

< Greek -ismos, -isma noun suffixes, often directly, often through Latin -ismus, -isma, sometimes through French -isme, German -ismus (all ultimately < Gk)

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World English Dictionary
suffix forming nouns
1.  indicating an action, process, or result: criticism; terrorism
2.  indicating a state or condition: paganism
3.  indicating a doctrine, system, or body of principles and practices: Leninism; spiritualism
4.  indicating behaviour or a characteristic quality: heroism
5.  indicating a characteristic usage, esp of a language: colloquialism; Scotticism
6.  indicating prejudice on the basis specified: sexism; ageism
[from Old French -isme, from Latin -ismus, from Greek -ismos]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Word Origin & History

suffix forming nouns of action, state, condition, doctrine, from Fr. -isme, from L. -isma, from Gk. -isma, from stem of verbs in -izein. Used as an independent word, chiefly disparagingly, from 1680.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Medical Dictionary

-ism suff.

  1. Action, process; practice: vegetarianism.

  2. Characteristic behavior or quality: puerilism.

  3. State; condition; quality: senilism.

  4. State or condition resulting from an excess of something specified: strychninism.

  5. Doctrine; theory; system of principles: Darwinism.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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