anath·​e·​ma ə-ˈna-thə-mə How to pronounce anathema (audio)
: 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
: one that is cursed by ecclesiastical authority
: a ban or curse solemnly pronounced by ecclesiastical authority and accompanied by excommunication
: the denunciation of something as accursed
: 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 Burners treat these principles as gospel—any exchange of money would be anathema to the spirit of the gathering. Sinna Nasseri, Bon Appétit, 8 Sep. 2023 But his policies were anathema to the country’s rich elites and conservatives who accused Thaksin of being a dangerous and corrupt populist. Helen Regan, CNN, 31 Aug. 2023 There are indeed some deeply flawed and odious assumptions at play here — such as the notion that classical is, in its essence, the music of the well-heeled and therefore somehow anathema to people without privilege. Jeremy Eichler,, 13 May 2023 Her predicament was intensified when a Chinese technical adviser hired to consult on the film claimed that Wong’s bowing to clichéd roles damaged her reputation in China and that casting her would be anathema to the film’s financial success there. Mayukh Sen, The New Yorker, 30 Aug. 2023 The idea of importing natural gas to Southcentral Alaska has been anathema for frustrated policymakers, even as a temporary solution. Sean Maguire, Anchorage Daily News, 13 July 2023 Often adding to the experience are pedals and controls where they aren’t supposed to be, culminating in an operational process that is anathema to driving enjoyment. Basem Wasef, Robb Report, 2 Aug. 2023 For the travel industry, extreme heat can shift consumer demand—making some destinations desirable and others anathema. Justin Worland, Time, 13 July 2023 While the others were camping, Mark Harris declared, and Suzette verified, that Bethany Allana Clark was anathema and had to die. Benjamin Hale, Harper's Magazine, 10 July 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'anathema.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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, in the meaning defined at sense 1b

Time Traveler
The first known use of anathema was in 1582


Dictionary Entries Near anathema

Cite this Entry

“Anathema.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


anath·​e·​ma ə-ˈnath-ə-mə How to pronounce anathema (audio)
: a ban or curse declared by church authority and accompanied by excommunication
: a person or thing that is cursed or strongly disliked
taxation without representation was anathema to the colonists

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