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 The very act of protesting, along with certain religious identities, have seemingly become anathema to the country’s rulers in what was once the great liberal hope of South Asia. Joseph Allchin, The New York Review of Books, "Why Hindu Nationalists Trialed India’s Citizenship Law in Assam," 6 Jan. 2020 This common-good mentality is anathema to the demonstrators who recently stormed the capitols in Arizona, California, Michigan, Texas and other states. Gilbert Garcia, ExpressNews.com, "Garcia: COVID-19 cure will have to contend with anti-vaxxer resistance," 6 May 2020 With few exceptions, strict schedules are anathema to the development of a healthy gaming group. Initiating a game should be like asking your friends to grab a beer after work. Matthew Gault, Time, "Video Games Are a Great Way to Pass the Time and Keep You Connected. Here's How to Get Started," 5 May 2020 The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, decided not to apply for a loan, arguing in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that accepting the funds would be anathema to the group’s mission of promoting limited government. New York Times, "Opposed to Bailouts, but in This Case Willing to Take One," 24 Apr. 2020 All that stuff would have to stop, which is anathema. Susan Slusser, SFChronicle.com, "‘It’s disgusting’: Will coronavirus force baseball to clean up its act?," 18 Apr. 2020 The idea that free expression, rebelling against 1950s repression, is the paramount value, is anathema to them. Rumaan Alam, The New Republic, "Woody Allen’s Memoir Is Shrouded in Secrecy. Why?," 1 Apr. 2020 Drinking a full sugar soda is anathema for this group, who are finicky and smug. Mark Kennedy, Detroit Free Press, "‘The Hunt’ is a clunky swipe at a divided US," 12 Mar. 2020 The outbreak of Covid-19 has been anathema for most of China’s economy but the novel coronavirus was a shot in the arm for the state’s surveillance apparatus, which has expanded rapidly in pursuit of the epidemic’s spread. Eamon Barrett, Fortune, "The coronavirus is giving China cover to expand its surveillance. What happens when the virus is gone?," 2 Mar. 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

27 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Anathema.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anathema. Accessed 5 Jun. 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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