What is a solipsist?

Word count: 272 words

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: solipsist

I must have read the word solipsist dozens — if not hundreds — of times over the last 20 years. And I’ve never known what it’s meant. It’s one of those words you can skip over and still make enough sense of the text to just continue reading.

Today, at last, I looked it up in the dictionary and, wow, do I feel stupid. It’s an incredibly easy and fabulously useful word. Before giving you the background, let me describe where I found it most recently. I was in a novel called A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. Although the book has had fabulous reviews, I didn’t enjoy it. I found the writing too pompous and the story — about a group of characters in war-torn Chechnya — too grim. (I don’t enjoy reading about torture.)

Here is the sentence in which the word appeared:

You sound like a solipsist

As you can see, no clues in that sentence. In fact, its very sparseness is likely what provoked me to investigate the meaning of the word. Turns out solipsist dates back to 1874, and originates from the Latin term, solus, meaning “alone.” A solipsist is someone who is egoistic, self-absorbed or who is preoccupied the the indulgence of his or her own feelings and desires.

solipsist might also refer to a school in philosophy where it is believed that only the self exists, or can be proved to exist.