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The definition of -istic is:

Used to form adjectives from nouns, especially nouns in -ist and -ism, with the meaning "of or pertaining to" said nouns.

I don't see anything in there that could make words negative, but I can think of a few adjectives that are more negative with the suffix -istic. A few examples: negativistic, simplistic, moralistic, and legalistic.

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I think many words, such as feministic, moralistic, simplistic, have relatively negative connotations compared to the "standard" versions feminine, moral, simple. For the first two of those, perhaps it's because the "intermediate" forms feminist, moralist, are often used disparagingly. – FumbleFingers Aug 9 '14 at 14:51
@FumbleFingers: yes, see my answer. The negative senses, where they exist, come from the connotation of an "ist" blindly, pigheadedly, and often superciliously subscribing to an "ism". (BTW, I had written a comment here, but somehow it got deleted.) – Dan Bron Aug 9 '14 at 15:14
@Dan: Sorry - I hadn't even noticed there were any answers here when I posted that. I see your thoughts went further than mine. I'm sure we've got a question somewhere on ELU where it's pointed out that -isms (particularly, "one-off" coinages) are often negative - and thus by implication, so are the associated -ists and their -istic tendencies. – FumbleFingers Aug 9 '14 at 15:26

Short answer: it's not the "istic", it's the underlying "ist", or ultimately ism.

Let's examine your four examples:

  • negativistic: "negativist" + ic: being like someone who

    has a tendency to be unconstructively critical

  • simplistic: "simplist" + ic: being like someone who

    "studies simples", which are "herbs used in healing, medicine of one ingredient only; the notion being that each herb possesses a particular virtue, thus a `simple' remedy", thus a simplist is a person who subscribes to a theory which is over-simple, trying to explain too much by a single principle

  • moralistic: "moralist" + ic: being like someone who is

    given to moralizing, which (in the perjorative) is "indulgence in moral pronouncements; the exposition (often superficially) of a particular moral code"

  • legalistic: "legalist" + ic: being like someone who is

    like a goddamn lawyer

So each of these words, rather than directly ascribing a quality, is defining the trait in terms of acting like an a -ist. This is not obvious at first blush, because the -ist has been subsumed into the -istic, sometimes to the extent that modern English doesn't even have original -ist (or -ism) any longer, as in simplism and simplist. But none the less, in each case, the etymology traces back to a form of "X-ist" + "ic": "acting like or having the quality of an X-ist".

So to the extent -ist s and -ism s often have negative, pejorative connotations, so do -istic s. But while ists and isms as a class are charged with obdurate or doctrinaire (and often supercilious) qualities, whether particular ists and isms -- and by extension, istics -- do, depends on society's perception of that particular doctrine.

Consider the range of senses in altru-istic (positive: one who practices altru-ism), sad-istic (negative: one who follows de Sade), art-istic (neutral/descriptive or positive), unart-istic (neutral/descriptive or negative), character-istic (not even applicable, because it doesn't derive from an ism), bolshev-istic (positive in Soviet Russia, negative in McCarthyist America). The overtones come from (society's perception of) the root ism in each word.

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I attempted to quantitatively demonstrate that "-istic", of itself, lends no negative (nor positive) connotations by using an online sentiment analysis tool. Unfortunately its corpus is too small to qualify the majority of -istic words, but for anyone else who wants to take a shot, you can find a list of -istic words at dict.org/bin/… – Dan Bron Aug 9 '14 at 15:23
The only case where your answer doesn't convince me is simplistic. My guess is that it somehow came to mean simple-like but not truly simple in analogy with realistic, which means real-like but not truly real. (But the etymology of realistic is indeed from Realism/realist.) – Peter Shor Aug 9 '14 at 16:19
@PeterShor, click through the word "simplistic" in my answer; it will take you directly to the official etymology of that word, which indeed did derive from the ideology of "simplism" (which no longer exists, but sought simple answers to complex medical problems). – Dan Bron Aug 9 '14 at 16:28
The OED says from simple, noun (the herb sense) or simple, adj. So they leave open the possibility of two different etymologies for the two different meanings. – Peter Shor Aug 9 '14 at 16:40
lol, "the official etymology" – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 9 '14 at 19:53

All the following suffixes have Latin/Greek origins. Actually it appears they have no specific negative connotations in their past usage and word formation. These suffixes are used with both to positive, neutral and negative words.


  • word-forming element meaning "one who does or makes," also used to indicate adherence to a certain doctrine or custom, from French -iste and directly from Latin -ista, from Greek -istes, from -is-, ending of the stem of verbs in -izein, + agential suffix -tes. Variant -ister (as in chorister, barister) is from Old French -istre, on false analogy of ministre. Variant -ista is from Spanish, popularized in American English 1970s by names of Latin-American revolutionary movements.


  • adjectival suffix, from French -istique or directly from Latin -isticus, from Greek -istikos, which is adjective suffix -ikos (see -ic) added to noun suffix -istes (see -ist).


  • suffix forming nouns of action, state, condition, doctrine, from French -isme or directly from Latin -isma, -ismus, from Greek -isma, from stem of verbs in -izein. Used as an independent word, chiefly disparagingly, from 1670s.


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