anathema

noun
anath·​e·​ma | \ ə-ˈna-thə-mə How to pronounce anathema (audio) \

Definition of anathema

1a : one that is cursed by ecclesiastical authority
b : someone or something intensely disliked or loathed usually used as a predicate nominative … this notion was anathema to most of his countrymen.— Stephen Jay Gould
2a : a ban or curse solemnly pronounced by ecclesiastical authority and accompanied by excommunication
b : the denunciation of something as accursed
c : a vigorous denunciation : curse

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Synonyms & Antonyms for anathema

Synonyms

ban, curse, execration, imprecation, malediction, malison, winze [Scottish]

Antonyms

benediction, benison, blessing

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Word History of Anathema

The Greek root of anathema originally meant simply “a thing devoted” or “an offering,” and in the Old Testament it could refer to either revered objects or objects representing destruction brought about in the name of the Lord, such as the weapons of an enemy. Since the enemy’s objects therefore became symbols of what was reviled or unholy, the neutral meaning of “a thing devoted” became “a thing devoted to evil” or “curse.”

In Latin, it could refer to both an excommunication and the person who has been excommunicated.

In the early Church, anathema was used interchangeably with excommunication and to refer to unrepentant heretics. It then came to mean the severest form of excommunication in official church writings. When the authority of Rome was split in the Great Schism between Eastern and Western churches in 1054, an anathema was issued by Rome against the Eastern Patriarch who then issued another one against the cardinal who delivered it.

The History of Anathema Is Contradictory

Historically, anathema can be considered a one-word oxymoron. When it first appeared in English in 1526, it was used to refer to something accursed. Shortly thereafter, however, people also began to use it to refer to something consecrated to divine use—generally a good thing. Why the contradiction? Anathema comes from Greek, where it initially meant "anything devoted" and later "anything devoted to evil." The "consecrated to divine use" sense of anathema comes from that earlier Greek use but is not widely used today.

Examples of anathema in a Sentence

Maugham was not only prolific but also a best-seller, though snobs dismissed his work as middlebrow (a category that few people worry about in our day but that once was anathema). — Edmund White, New York Review of Books, 12 Feb. 2009 While everything pointed to an immense flood, Bretz knew such a notion would be anathema to his fellow geologists. In part that was because the quantity of water needed for such a flood would exceed the flow of all the world's modern rivers combined. — Richard Lovett, New Scientist, 21-27 Apr. 2007 Big Jeff was devoted to Purcell. He haunted his room and patiently endured his abuse just to sit in the corner and watch him shave or do push-ups or dress for dinner, and listen to him pronounce his opinions and anathemas. — Tobias Wolff, Old School, 2003 For all the artistic wonders it has preserved, the Holy Mountain is not a museum, and the idea of playing host to sightseers is anathema to the monks. Male visitors of all faiths are welcome, but they come as pilgrims, not tourists, and only 110 "residence permits" are issued each day by patristic officials in Ouranoupolis. — Nicholas Basbanes, Smithsonian, August 1999 a politician who is anathema to conservatives ideas that are an anathema to me
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Recent Examples on the Web

Open source was once anathema to Microsoft when its main economic interest was rooted in keeping customers tied to its own proprietary Windows software. Dan Gallagher, WSJ, "Microsoft’s GitHub Deal Is a Clean Break From Its Past," 4 June 2018 Now in its 61st year, the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup has thrived while others have faded, despite being anathema to biologists and animal rights advocates. John Maccormack, San Antonio Express-News, "As other rattlesnake roundups fade, Sweetwater is going strong," 10 Mar. 2018 That is anathema to the environmentalist M5S, one of whose negotiators cut her teeth in a campaign to stop a high-speed rail link to France. The Economist, "An Italian populist government looks likely, and risky," 17 May 2018 That proposal would bind the U.K. closely to the EU even after Britain exits the bloc, a situation that is anathema to anti-EU forces within the Conservative Party. Stephen Fidler, WSJ, "Theresa May to Face No-Confidence Vote Amid Brexit Disarray," 12 Dec. 2018 Unfortunately, charter schools are anathema to the teachers unions and the de Blasio administration. WSJ, "Spread Opportunity to Help Poor Students Rise," 28 Dec. 2018 The selloff has hit Asian dollar bondholders hardest this year, since the market is threatened not just by rising interest rates from the Fed but also by a rise in Chinese corporate defaults, which were previously anathema to Beijing. Steven Russolillo, WSJ, "Global Selloff Tests Changed Credit Market," 22 Nov. 2018 My kids have taken a little ribbing here or there over their names, predictably more so in middle school, where anything different is anathema. Maggie May Ethridge, Good Housekeeping, "I Gave My Kids Unusual Names, And Everyone Has an Opinion About It," 22 Apr. 2016 Nothing short of confiscation would serve the purpose of removing assault weapons entirely from the civilian population, an idea that is anathema to Second Amendment activists. Kevin Diaz, San Antonio Express-News, "1994 assault weapon ban a hot topic in wake of Florida school massacre," 25 Feb. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'anathema.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of anathema

1582, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for anathema

Late Latin anathemat-, anathema, from Greek, thing devoted to evil, curse, from anatithenai to set up, dedicate, from ana- + tithenai to place, set — more at do

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Statistics for anathema

Last Updated

2 Apr 2019

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Time Traveler for anathema

The first known use of anathema was in 1582

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More Definitions for anathema

anathema

noun

English Language Learners Definition of anathema

formal : someone or something that is very strongly disliked

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