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I am interested in the difference between these to seemingly synonymous terms.

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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

"Egotism" is an inflated sense of one's importance; it's being conceited or vain.

EGOTISM at Merriam-Webster

1a: excessive use of the first person singular personal pronoun 1b: the practice of talking about oneself too much 2: an exaggerated sense of self-importance

The egotist feels superior to others physically, intellectually or in some other way.

"Egoism" is a preoccupation with oneself, but not necessarily feeling superior to others.

EGOISM at Merriam-Webster

1a: a doctrine that individual self-interest is the actual motive of all conscious action
1b: a doctrine that individual self-interest is the valid end of all actions
2: excessive concern for oneself with or without exaggerated feelings of self-importance

The egoist puts himself and his own needs before everyone else.

Egotist: I'm the smartest, prettiest and most talented.

Egoist: It's all about me regardless of how I compare to everyone else.

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Egotism refers to talking about oneself — that's what meanings 1a and 1b are (and I suspect 2 too…). –  ShreevatsaR Dec 26 '10 at 5:48
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"Egoism" would be the term regularly formed of its Latin/Greek parts: ego + -ismus/-ismos. The t in "egotism" was probably added by analogy to some -ismes in French that have an intrusive t, which can be inserted between vowels in French.

The Trésor de la Langue Française informatisé and the Oxford English Dictionary seem to agree that the word was probably coined in English, in the colony of Port-Royal around 1714*. Since the intrusive t is not a native phonological instrument in English, it may be considered a Gallicism, not a borrowing from French; for that reason, some call "egotism" a malformation. Others say that such an attack on the intrusive t is unfair and that it should be accepted as English. The choice is a matter of style and of no great importance.

To some, "egotism" means being self-centred, whereas "egoism" is restricted to philosophy (solipsism etc.); however, it seems that this distinction is so blurred that both can be used for self-centredness. I believe this distinction is ignored by most writers.

*) OED, on egotism:

If the statement of Addison (quot. 1714) can be trusted, the word seems to have been invented by some of the Port-Royalists to range with the terms of rhetoric denoting ‘figures of speech’ and the like.

TLFi, on égotisme:

(1714, ADDISON, Spect. no 562, p. 3 ds NED : the Gentlemen of Port-Royal ... branded this form of writing in the first person with the name of an egotism)

TLFi, on égoïsme:

Étymol. et Hist. 1755 (Encyclop. t. 5 : Mm. de Port-Royal ont généralement banni de leurs écrits l'usage de parler d'eux-mêmes à la première personne [...] Pour en marquer leur éloignement, ils l'ont tourné en ridicule sous le nom d'égoïsme, adopté depuis dans notre langue)

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@Kosmonaut: You're right, that was not very clear. I edited it: is this better? Or do you disagree? –  Cerberus Dec 26 '10 at 6:05
This is more clear, but the t is not redundant as much as (probably) a phonological means of avoiding vowel hiatus. French often uses t to avoid vowel hiatus (e.g. "va-t-il" instead of "va il"). Egotism came around first and was probably influenced by the French égotisme, while egoism came around later and was a direct borrowing from Latin parts. –  Kosmonaut Dec 26 '10 at 6:17
@Kosmonaut: Okay, I researched it a bit more, as I simply took my judgement of egotism from Fowler. It appears that egotism was coined in English, from which the French adopted it later. For that reason, I think Fowler has a point, especially since egoism is probably only a few decades younger. See the note in my Answer above. Even so, this is merely a subjective inclination, not a fanatical condemnation. Besides, it doesn't matter a great deal. –  Cerberus Dec 28 '10 at 3:47
That's fine if egotism is an English creation; it looks like it really was influenced by French, just not by the word égotisme itself. The main reason for my comment was to point out that the t wasn't just a random thing coming from nowhere — there was a point to it. Anyway, you're right, it's not crucial to the question (but I think it is interesting!). –  Kosmonaut Dec 28 '10 at 5:36
@Kosmonaut: OK, you are absolutely right about that; I was too hasty. Incidentally, I am still occasionally puzzled by French tolerance of hiatus: sometimes they will jump through hoops to counter it; at other times they simply allow it, even where liaison or the intrusive t might work. It doesn't look like a completely consistent system to me... but I am probably missing some aspects of it. –  Cerberus Dec 31 '10 at 2:18
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