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Getting the gist of “ist”

By Debra Dobbins

The word orthodontist has an interesting prefix, root and suffix. “Ortho” means straight. “Dont” means teeth, and “ist” means someone who works in a particular field or someone involved in a cause or way of thinking. Examples: Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, became a famous scientist. Through his efforts to rid the U.S. of slavery, William Lloyd Garrison became a well-known abolitionist.

If we had never seen the word orthodontist before but we knew each of its word parts, we could correctly infer (make an educated guess) that it means someone who is in the business of straightening teeth. Of course, anyone who has worn or is wearing braces right now probably knows the meaning of the word all too well!

Other people involved in a particular field include geologists, florists, biologists and chemists.

A fun way to remember that “ist” means someone is doing something is to think of many instruments in an orchestra and decide what those playing them are called. For example, a musician who plays the violin is a violinist. I’ve come up with at least ten others, which I’ll share tomorrow. How many can you think of?


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