noun anath·e·ma \ə-ˈna-thə-mə\

Definition of anathema

  1. 1a :  one that is cursed by ecclesiastical authorityb :  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

  2. 2a :  a ban or curse solemnly pronounced by ecclesiastical authority and accompanied by excommunicationb :  the denunciation of something as accursedc :  a vigorous denunciation :  curse

anathema was our Word of the Day on 08/11/2008. Hear the podcast!

Examples of anathema in a sentence

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. a politician who is anathema to conservatives

  6. ideas that are an anathema to me

Recent Examples of anathema from the web

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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.

Did You Know?

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.

Origin and Etymology of 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

First Known Use: 1582

Other Religion (Eastern and Other) Terms

ANATHEMA Defined for English Language Learners


noun anath·e·ma \ə-ˈna-thə-mə\

Definition of anathema for English Language Learners

  • : someone or something that is very strongly disliked

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up anathema? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a trip made at another's expense

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