I found the article titled “Birtherism isn’t dead” in today’s Washington Post. It begins with the following sentence:

“Discussion of President Obama’s place of birth died down significantly when he released his long-form birth certificate. But birtherism still lives, even if it no longer gets as much attention.”

Although Wikipedia gives definition of ‘birtherism,” none of reputed dictionaries such as Oxford, Cambridge, and Merriam-Webster carries this word. Google NGram neither shows the record of incidence.

As a non-native English speaker, I feel the word, “Birtherism” is somewhat awkward by its construction, just like saying “Motherism,” “Midwifeism,” “Birthplaceism.” and “Originism.”

Is “Birtherism” well-received English word, particularly in America? If not, why it is shown in the newspaper without quotation marks or any sign that shows the word is recently coined or has a special meaning.

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    The word is neither well-known nor oft-used. I would guess the quotes were deliberately omitted because, although the word is relatively uncommon, the controversy concerning Obama's birthplace felt rather drawn out, and happened a few years ago. Therefore, most people can deduce the meaning of the word when it is being applied to that particular situation, so, no quotes are needed. (Just a theory on my part, though.)
    – J.R.
    Commented May 19, 2012 at 2:32

1 Answer 1


The -ism suffix can indicate a philosophy, belief system, or ideological movement, as in liberalism, Prebyterianism, or Gaullism. Here, it has been affixed to birther, because that is what these conspiracists have become known as, not "birthplaceists" or "originauts" or "Indonizers" or whatnot:


a person who doubts the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency because of a conspiracy theory that Obama is not a natural-born US citizen [and thus constitutionally ineligible].

As it refers to a specific political movement and not a general concept, and as it is a rather recent phenomenon, I would not expect it to have made its way into too many authorities.

The -er+ism form recalls a slightly older, comparably reputable movement: trutherism, derived from truther.


a person who doubts the popular account of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and instead claims complicity on the part of the US government.

I venture to say both words would be familiar to an average reader of the Washington Post, but not necessarily to the average American— any more than Dominionism, Straussianism, or Thatcherism, for example.

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    One unfamiliar with the term will think it's more like Thatcherism, expecting a certain Birther in history (, who should've given birth to the term!).
    – Kris
    Commented May 19, 2012 at 3:57
  • @Choster. I was quite comfortable with ‘noun / adjective+ism’ composition like “liberalism, Presbyterianism, or Gaullism” because there are well-established root words like ‘liberal,’ ‘Presbyterian,’ ‘ Gaul,’ but in the case of ‘birtherism,” birther isn’t established word, - that was the primary reason I felt the word, “birtherism” awkward. Commented May 19, 2012 at 21:41
  • (Cont.) That being said, though I could’t find the difinition you quoted in Oxord online Dic, I found similar definition of birther as “noun. informal: A person who doubts the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency because of a conspiracy theory that Obama is not a natural-born US citizen,” in Merriam-Webster online. “Birtherism” apparently seems to have citizenship as a word. Together with your answer, my doubt of “birtherism” being a farfetched coinage was dispelled. Commented May 19, 2012 at 21:41

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