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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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.

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 See More
Recent Examples on the Web Each plague is aimed at a particular Egyptian god — each of which represents values that are anathema to the world that the Torah would want to create. The Salt Lake Tribune, 19 Apr. 2022 So much of the new sobriety flex is anathema to the captious alcoholics of 12-step groups. Virginia Heffernan, Wired, 19 Apr. 2022 The thought of returning to a hard-right regime again is anathema to many. David A. Andelman, CNN, 6 Apr. 2022 That word, by the way, is anathema to these courageous and dedicated suffragists, who resent the diminutive form that patronizes them and diminishes their cause of securing for women the right to vote. Marilyn Stasio, Variety, 6 Apr. 2022 Those moves to mollify the Republican base are anathema to Democrats, leaving compromise at an impasse. Deepa Fernandes, San Francisco Chronicle, 27 Mar. 2022 Such educational approaches are anathema to the CCP. Nina Shea, National Review, 20 Mar. 2022 The idea of competition was anathema, with one exception: a yearly photo contest. Tom Vanderbilt, Outside Online, 21 Mar. 2022 That the country might be governed by Bengalis was, of course, anathema to Bhutto and the army. Tunku Varadarajan, WSJ, 18 Mar. 2022 See More

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.

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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The first known use of anathema was in 1582

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Last Updated

8 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Anathema.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anathema. Accessed 17 May. 2022.

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