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 As my colleague David Frum noted, the loss of some of Afghanistan’s most skilled citizens is a testament to the attractiveness of the rights and freedoms that are so anathema to the Taliban. Yasmeen Serhan, The Atlantic, 3 Sep. 2021 The advice against vaccination is anathema to doctors now tasked with caring for this surge in sick women. NBC News, 25 Aug. 2021 His death prompted widespread tributes in Hong Kong, in Taiwan and in mainland China, where his books were widely read even though his liberal values were anathema to the ruling Communist Party. New York Times, 10 Aug. 2021 Their approach is not triumphalist—boosterism and mythologizing were anathema to most of the editors and writers of the guides. Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker, 5 Aug. 2021 The idea of watching classic cinema on a phone screen might be anathema to hard-core film snobs, but the Criterion Channel does make titles available for download on its mobile app. James Grebey, Vulture, 2 Aug. 2021 Fundamentals of green design—electrification, lightweight materials, energy efficiency—are anathema to warfighting. James Marson, WSJ, 29 July 2021 Much of their 2020 season — their silent home stadium, their porous defense — felt like anathema to the brand of football the Vikings have played under Zimmer. Ben Goessling, Star Tribune, 28 July 2021 But under Biden, such measures have become anathema to Democrats who feel they were badly abused by President Donald Trump. Washington Post, 17 July 2021

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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Dictionary Entries Near anathema

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Last Updated

17 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Anathema.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anathema. Accessed 26 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for anathema

anathema

noun

English Language Learners Definition of anathema

: someone or something that is very strongly disliked

More from Merriam-Webster on anathema

Nglish: Translation of anathema for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of anathema for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about anathema

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