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The -ists and -isms of personal belief

Two of the most critical questions we ever ask ourselves are, “Who am I?” and “What do I believe?”

As we meet people in our lives and encounter a variety of beliefs or philosophies, we make these decisions.

Our language has two vital suffixes that deal with answers to these questions: -ist is an ending that refers to “one who,” while the suffix –ism, points to the belief. We will look at a few of these words speaking of people. Nearly all can just change their ending to –ism and give us the belief.

While a realist accepts a situation as it is and is prepared to deal with it accordingly, an idealist sees visions or dreams of perfection.

Then there is the fatalist, who accepts all things and events as inevitable, part of predetermination. As we form our values, we may learn from an altruist, one who is unselfish, concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others. The egoist, on the other hand, believes individual self-interest is the valid end of all action. He sees himself as important, but not necessarily superior, as does the excessively conceited egotist. And then there is the moralist, fond of making moral judgments about others’ behavior.

Each of these philosophies is more complicated than we can cover here, but if one explanation stirs an interest, let it serve as a launching pad for more.

A rationalist is one who bases opinions on reason/knowledge rather than emotional or religious feelings. The pragmatist is guided more by practical considerations and judges theories in terms of success or practical application.

A nationalist advocates political independence for a country, while a federalist is a proponent of a government system in which several states unite under a central authority. A capitalist uses money to invest in trade and industry for profit for private owners; however, a socialist advocates political and economic organizations be owned or regulated by the community as a whole. A communist’s political theory is derived from Karl Marx, favoring a society in which property is publicly owned, and each worker is paid according to his abilities and needs.

And do you ever wish, just for a moment, that your only goal was pleasure? Hedonism, even if only transitory, is the pursuit of enjoyment, personal gratification.

— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years, with a special interest in vocabulary, grammar and usage. If you have grammar questions you would like answered, email her at ifixgrammar@charter.net