And you thought -ize was complicated

… but that was before you looked at –ist. The spur for this observation is Tom Gauld’s cartoon “The Characters in my New Play”, originally in the Guardian on 3/14/15, since reprinted in his 2017 collection Baking With Kafka:

Gauld starts with the play-relevant term protagonist, then moves to the falsely analogous term antagonist, then takes off on a flight of fancy through the vast –ist world.

On protagonist and antagonist, from NOAD:

noun protagonist: [a] the leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text. [b] the main figure or one of the most prominent figures in a real situation: in this colonial struggle, the main protagonists were Great Britain and France. [c] an advocate or champion of a particular cause or idea: a strenuous protagonist of the new agricultural policy. ORIGIN late 17th century: from Greek prōtagōnistēs, from prōtos ‘first in importance’ + agōnistēs ‘actor’. USAGE The first sense of protagonist, as originally used in connection with ancient Greek drama, is ‘the main character in a play.’ In the early 20th century, a new sense arose meaning ‘a supporter of a cause’: a strenuous protagonist of the new agricultural policy. This new sense probably arose by analogy with antagonist, the pro- in protagonist being interpreted as meaning ‘in favor of.’ In fact, the prot- in protagonist derives from the Greek root meaning ‘first.’ Protagonist is best used in its original dramatic, theatrical sense, not as a synonym for supporter or proponent. Further, because of its basic meaning of ‘leading character,’ such usage as the play’s half-dozen protagonists were well cast blurs the word’s distinctiveness; characters, instead of protagonists, would be more precise.

Previously on this blog, in my 3/1/21 posting “departmentalized”:

The fact is that the uses of the derivational suffx –ize border on the baffling, with regard to the bases it attaches to and the senses it conveys. These are generally causative, paraphrasable with constructions with the verb make, but the details are incredibly complex.

But -ist turns out to be vastly more complex, as you can judge from this entry on Michael Quinion’s Affixes site:

ist, also ‑istic and ‑istical. Forming personal nouns and some related adjectives. [Old French ‑iste, Latin ‑ista, from Greek ‑istēs.]

One large group consists of words linked to nouns in ‑ism, so suggesting a person who adheres to a system of beliefs or principles, or practices some art, skill or activity (communist, hedonist, Marxist, realist, socialist, spiritualist, tourist, ventriloquist), or subscribes to some prejudice or practises discrimination (ageist, racist, sexist, sizeist). A second group is of agent nouns associated with verbs ending in ‑ize, many of which also have related nouns in ‑ism: antagonist, Baptist, evangelist, exorcist, plagiarist.

On their model a large number of terms have been generated from a variety of nouns, or sometimes from adjectives or verbs, to indicate a member of some profession or business activity, or a person engaged in some pursuit or activity: artist, cyclist, dentist, dramatist, florist, humorist, idealist, linguist, motorist, novelist, organist, scientist, trombonist. Some refer to students of the language or culture of a region: Americanist, Hebraist, Hellenist, Latinist, Orientalist.

The suffix is often used to form new words, often for a single occasion: everythingist, garbageologist (a person who investigates household rubbish as a marker of social status or aspirations), oppositionalist (a member of a political party who rigorously opposes some aspect of policy), rebuttalist (one who rebuts another), road-ragist (a person who exhibits road rage).

It is common to form adjectives using the compound suffix ‑istic (‑ist plus ‑ic): atheistic, evangelistic, idealistic, realistic. A few nouns also have adjective forms in ‑istical: egoistical, pietistical, though these are less common.

See also –logist [‘a person skilled in, or involved in, a branch of study’, formed from nouns in –logy].

Note that –ize is in there, but as the basis of just one of a number of types of –ist words.

2 Responses to “And you thought -ize was complicated”

  1. Scientific and non-scientific -ist | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] A blog mostly about language « And you thought -ize was complicated […]

  2. The columnist | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] you can do with –ist. Lots and lots of stuff. Note my 3/9/21 posting “And you thought -ize was complicated”, with a wide range of uses for the suffix. The […]

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