anathema

noun
anath·e·ma | \ ə-ˈna-thə-mə \

Definition of anathema 

1a : one that is cursed by ecclesiastical authority

b : 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

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.

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

This is a house that will be anathema to those who like their architecture light and bright and their décor minimal. Ruth Bloomfield, WSJ, "When A 13th-Century English Home to Royalty Comes With A Sauna," 11 July 2018 Temporary foreign workers have long been anathema to the UFW. Geoffrey Mohan, latimes.com, "How California's farm labor shortage made friends of old rivals," 6 July 2018 Confederate statues are an anathema to rational, thinking people. Lauren Ritchie, OrlandoSentinel.com, "Statue of Confederate general is no 'piece of art,' has no place in Lake County museum," 1 July 2018 Slavery and prejudice are an anathema to American values. Lorraine Boissoneault, Smithsonian, "The Unheralded Pioneers of 19th-Century America Were Free African-American Families," 19 June 2018 Of course, Apple still considers touchscreens to be anathema on laptops. Dieter Bohn, The Verge, "Apple’s new MacBook Pros have the latest Intel processors and quieter keyboards," 12 July 2018 That may seem like an anathema to the ancient institution of the British monarchy but the Palace has become a keen marketer of its most popular members, the younger generation of royals. Marcia Moody, Town & Country, "How Meghan Markle's First Year as a Royal Will Compare with Kate Middleton’s," 27 June 2018 The nine bodies were unceremoniously dumped into a burial pit, tangled in a jumble of limbs anathema to the precise arrangements typically seen in Early Neolithic graves. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian, "7,000-Year-Old German Grave Shows New Side of Neolithic Brutality," 11 July 2018 The midterm election victories for Republicans in 2014 seemed to prove that engaging on any sort of compromise deal on immigration was totally unnecessary and, in fact, was anathema to the desires of the party's base. Chris Cillizza, CNN, "The biggest political story no one is talking about," 17 May 2018

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 1a

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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Last Updated

20 Aug 2018

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Time Traveler for anathema

The first known use of anathema was in 1582

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More Definitions for anathema

anathema

noun

English Language Learners Definition of anathema

: someone or something that is very strongly disliked

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