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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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.
Yes, and it's not new:
The use of graphist seems to have reached peak popularity around 1800:
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.