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

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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 Nationalism is an obscenity to the Left, and socialism is anathema for the Right, but a nationalizing or centralizing spirit suffuses both sides. Jonah Goldberg, National Review, "Neither Left nor Right Has Proper Remedy for America’s Illness," 7 Aug. 2019 The idea that black people can advance only with the help of whites is anathema to Clarence Thomas, who has identified with Wright’s protagonist throughout his life. Corey Robin, The New Yorker, "Clarence Thomas’s Radical Vision of Race," 21 June 2019 Even a mundane task like packing is approached with tact, because cobbling together a suitable wardrobe at the eleventh hour is anathema to Patricia's disciplined existence. Luzanne Otte, Town & Country, "Patricia Altschul's Very Specific Guide to Traveling in Style," 18 May 2019 The idea that parents might forbid or severely limit the use of their childrens’ devices—or take the devices away altogether—is anathema to him. Naomi Schaefer Riley, WSJ, "‘The New Childhood’ Review: Screening Out the Urge to Worry," 6 Jan. 2019 For many, the term was thus anathema, representing what some considered an oversimplified paint by numbers sound heard on festival mainstages and the suits who had arrived to get a financial piece of a formerly underground scene. Billboard Staff, Billboard, "The Top 100 Moments of the EDM Decade," 17 Dec. 2019 Ciccarone’s plea for a new drug policy paradigm is the anathema to the square-jawed enforcers among Washington’s consultant class. Zachary Siegel, The New Republic, "How the Drug War Blob Took Over The Washington Post," 10 Oct. 2019 Those ideas are anathema to the unions that represent thousands of PG&E’s electric and gas workers. Alexei Koseff, SFChronicle.com, "How PG&E fight could endanger major California housing bill," 10 Dec. 2019 That idea is anathema to Germans (Weimar, again), but neighboring Denmark and other countries prove minority government can work. Washington Post, "Germany’s Crisis Is a Very Good Thing," 1 Dec. 2019

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

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The first known use of anathema was in 1582

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Last Updated

5 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Anathema.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anathema. Accessed 19 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for anathema

anathema

noun
How to pronounce anathema (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of anathema

formal : someone or something that is very strongly disliked

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