anathema

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

Definition of anathema

1a : 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
b : one that is cursed by ecclesiastical authority
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

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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 The intraparty dispute has scrambled longstanding political alliances and left Virginia Republicans in the awkward position of defending stances that were once anathema to a party that has been redefined by the Trump era. New York Times, "The Virginia G.O.P. Voted on Its Future. The Losers Reject the Results.," 19 Feb. 2021 However, enlarging the government safety net has long been anathema to most Republicans, many of whom fear that federal programs will inevitably impose higher costs on states. Noam N. Levey, USA TODAY, "Why Biden has an unexpected chance to expand Medicaid in red state holdouts," 17 Feb. 2021 Biden wasted little time after his inauguration Wednesday in working to undo President Donald Trump's policies that were anathema to Democrats during his four years in office. Editors, USA TODAY, "Biden returns to work, House security protocols, Fauci's WHO speech: 5 things to know Thursday," 21 Jan. 2021 Days after the attack, Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, told MSNBC that the warnings that Trump and his politics were anathema to a multicultural democracy were made. NBC News, "The Trump-fueled riot shocked America. To some, it was a long time coming.," 16 Jan. 2021 With the pandemic, Martin has had to rethink and adapt to social distancing, a concept that is an anathema to Cajuns’ way of living. Washington Post, "Our favorite cookbooks of 2020," 9 Dec. 2020 Certainly the exacting and capricious God of his upbringing — these characteristics that, not coincidentally, also describe Gabriel Grimes — was anathema to him. New York Times, "What the Church Meant for James Baldwin," 4 Dec. 2020 Prioritizing order to this degree is anathema to much of the West, yet perspectives such as these are not unprecedented in Western history. Chang Che, The Atlantic, "The Nazi Inspiring China’s Communists," 1 Dec. 2020 With progressives using this early stage to push for anti-pollution rules that were anathema to Trump, the first hints of where the administration will fall on the regulatory spectrum will come from personnel appointments. Mike Dorning, Bloomberg.com, "Farm Industry Braces for Tougher Eye on Practices Under Biden," 14 Nov. 2020

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 1b

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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Time Traveler for anathema Time Traveler

The first known use of anathema was in 1582

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Last Updated

25 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Anathema.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anathema. Accessed 8 Mar. 2021.

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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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