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The suffix -ism was first used to form a noun of action from a verb, as in baptism, from baptein, a Greek word meaning "to dip", and then extended to systems of belief.

The word ism was first used in 1680 and can be found in the works of such well-known writers as Thomas Carlyle, Julian Huxley and George Bernard Shaw. In the present day, it appears in the title of a standard survey of political thought, Today's ISMS by William Ebenstein, first published in the 1950s, and now in its 11th edition.

The -ism suffix can be used to express the following concepts:

See also: list of Isms.