As a foreigner it's normal for me to use graphist, calling a graphics designer. But it's odd for me to find out it's not used very much online. Why is it so? Is graphist a valid English word?

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    I have always heard the person called a "graphics designer," never a "graphist." I would suspect that if you have not found it any dictionary that it is not a valid word, although new words are being coined every day. Could you tell us what dictionaries you have looked at? – rajah9 Apr 26 '17 at 13:44
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    A graphist is clearly someone who discriminates on the basis of graphs... – AndyT Apr 26 '17 at 14:51
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    Cross posted here. – Glorfindel Apr 28 '17 at 8:19

The word is a colloquialism, as reported at urbandictionary.com:


A simple compression for graphic artist. Graphists are artists who create their works using computer graphics.

If you are talking to non specialists (people that aren't in the graphic design industry) most people would not understand the meaning.

When talking to people familiar with the graphic design industry, you may well find they are familiar with the term.

So it's a valid colloquialism, but not a standard English word.

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    So are you drawing a distinction between a graphic artist and a graphic designer? – Spagirl Apr 26 '17 at 13:49
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    @Spagirl In the case of this blend, yes I would definitely draw a distinction. As the 'st' is borrowed from the ending of artist, specifically relating to graphic artist. I'm not sure if graphic artist is synonymous with graphic designer, my guess would be not, but I haven't taken the trouble to look into it. The blend for graphic designer would be grapher, which I just looked up out of curiosity, only to find it's used to refer to people who deface bus shelters, windows etc. urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=grapher so likely isn't related to graphic designer. – Gary Apr 26 '17 at 14:02
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    The folks at Graphic Design SE might be willing to weigh in on whether it's widely understood in that community and, if so, how. If it's not an on-topic question for the main site, it could surely be asked in chat. – 1006a Apr 26 '17 at 18:48
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    Rather than repeat my answer at GraphicDesign.StackExchange.com.... It is not a term used in the design industry in my experience (in America anyway). I've never once heard the term used. – Scott Apr 27 '17 at 8:38
  • Used by fairly famous designer of data visualisations to describe artist creating graphs reddit.com/r/dataisbeautiful/comments/3ol03x/… – Pete Kirkham Apr 28 '17 at 8:27

Yes, and it's not new:

The use of graphist seems to have reached peak popularity around 1800:

Google ngram viewer for "graphist"

Note that it means vaguely the same thing as it does today, though its meaning has been overloaded with technology that now exists.

Is this a word which already exists? Yes, here is an example, though in a different context than the one you asked about (see comments).

They were written or engraved on bricks, burnt in the fun, which was probably the earliest rude tablet of the graphist, though afterwards he committed his thoughts to the more durable substance of marble, brass, and copper.

Indian Antiquities: Or Dissertations Relative to the Ancient Geographical... by Thomas Maurice, Inigo Barlow, 1800

This is my favourite use, circa 1860:

In the first place, then, the mere power to represent words to the eye in written -- made with pen and in -- letters, is but a portion of this branch of education,--the whole of which is equally essential, though parts of it are not as frequently used as mere word-writing. The whole branch has been well termed "GRAPHICS", and embraces the ability to present to the eye, by means of the pen, pencil, or crayon, on paper or other surface, letters in combination so as to fork words, arithmetical figures, the mathematical and other signs and diagrams, and the forms or natural and artificial objects, so far as can be done by mere lines. To do all this rapidly, neatly and accurately is to be a graphist, while to be a good writer of words, is to be but partly a graphist.

The Pennsylvania School Journal, 1860, Volumes 9-11, pages 130 - 131.

Why is it not used now? This is a guess, but I imagine the job of graphic designer originated with designer and was later differentiated from other types of designer. Perhaps similarly, we don't call anyone an uxist, we call them UX designers.

  • The first quote is a completely different sense, the historically original one. It means carver or engraver there. The Greek verb γράφω is cognate with and originally meant ‘carve’; the meaning ‘draw, write’ is secondary (just like write originally meant ‘carve’ or ‘scratch’), and the first of your quotes uses it(s English form) in that original sense. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 28 '17 at 16:00
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Quite. That was intended to answer the question "is this a word that already exists" with a date which predates the field of graphic design. I could edit my answer to reflect this. – msanford Apr 28 '17 at 16:44

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