a suffix of nouns, often corresponding to verbs ending in -ize or nouns ending in -ism, that denote a person who practices or is concerned with something, or holds certain principles, doctrines, etc.: apologist; dramatist; machinist; novelist; realist; socialist; Thomist.
Compare -ism, -istic, -ize.

Middle English -iste < Latin -ista < Greek -istēs; in some words, representing French -iste, German -ist, Italian -ista, etc., ≪ Latin < Greek, as above

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1.  (forming nouns) a person who performs a certain action or is concerned with something specified: motorist; soloist
2.  (forming nouns) a person who practises in a specific field: physicist; typist
3.  (forming nouns and adjectives) a person who advocates a particular doctrine, system, etc, or relating to such a person or the doctrine advocated: socialist
4.  (forming nouns and adjectives) a person characterized by a specified trait, tendency, etc, or relating to such a person or trait: purist
5.  (forming nouns and adjectives) a person who is prejudiced on the basis specified: sexist; ageist
[via Old French from Latin -ista, -istēs, from Greek -istēs]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

agent noun suffix, also used to indicate adherence to a certain doctrine or custom, from Fr. -iste, from L. -ista, from Gk. -istes, from agential suffix -tes. Variant -ister (e.g. chorister, barister) is from O.Fr. -istre, on false analogy of ministre. Variant -ista is from Sp. form, popularized in Eng.
1970s by names of Latin-American revolutionary movements.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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