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In die Skriflig

On-line version ISSN 2305-0853
Print version ISSN 1018-6441


HALE, Frederick. 'Fundamentalism' and 'fundamentalist' semantically considered: Their lexical origins, early polysemy, and pejoration. In Skriflig (Online) [online]. 2013, vol.47, n.1, pp.1-8. ISSN 2305-0853.

The words fundamentalist (as both a noun and an adjective) and fundamentalism were coined in 1920 within the Northern Baptist Convention when that and other American Protestant denominations were experiencing theological turmoil due to the advance of theological modernism. It is argued in the present article that both terms initially had positive meanings when used by defenders of orthodoxy. However, within weeks of their birth both were criticised by less conservative Christians. Like many other theological terms they underwent semantic change - in this case pejoration and lexical extension. Moreover, by 1923 'fundamentalist' had been extended into political journalism to refer to strict adherents of one ideology or another. The greatest change, however, and one that fixed these neologisms in the public mind in both North America and the United Kingdom, came with the widely published 'Scopes monkey trial' of 1925, when the association of 'fundamentalists' and 'fundamentalism' with anti-intellectualism and obscurantism reached its apogee.

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