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 Bidding up the sale, even if there are plenty of takers, is seen as anathema to the social mission of the cooperative, which is to establish permanently affordable housing. Matthew Desmond, New York Times, "The Tenants Who Evicted Their Landlord," 13 Oct. 2020 Her poems are anathema to easy comfort, and often seem to ban or forbid the going and conventional emotional logic. Dan Chiasson, The New Yorker, "How Louise Glück, Nobel Laureate, Became Our Poet," 8 Oct. 2020 Many Jewish DPs dreamed of refuge in Palestine, a prospect anathema to Britain because its leaders sought to avoid circumstances that would inflame Arab-Jewish tensions in a tiny but explosive corner of its crumbling empire. Seth Stern, The Christian Science Monitor, "Displaced: ‘The Last Million’ refugees to leave Europe after World War II," 30 Sep. 2020 The industry was complicated and highly regulated, both anathema to private equity. Peter Elkind, ProPublica, "Investors Extracted $400 Million From a Hospital Chain That Sometimes Couldn’t Pay for Medical Supplies or Gas for Ambulances," 30 Sep. 2020 Since achievements were seen as a test of skill, cheating became an anathema to these kinds of virtual accolades. David Silverberg, Popular Mechanics, "Game Breaking: How Cheat Codes Changed Video Games Forever," 27 Sep. 2020 Not surprisingly, the idea of flatly banning new homes outright in at-risk areas is anathema, even among climate-sensitive politicians. Star Tribune, "Facing climate disasters, Americans back stronger building codes," 25 Sep. 2020 Now, Donald Trump, who is presumed to be anathema to all Hispanics, has notably enhanced his standing with these voters in a material boost to his chances in a must-win swing state. Rich Lowry, National Review, "Why Trump Is Winning Over Hispanics," 13 Sep. 2020 Government intervention in the economy used to be anathema to conservatives. Washington Post, "To counter China, some Republicans are abandoning free-market orthodoxy," 26 Aug. 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

22 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Anathema.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anathema. Accessed 23 Oct. 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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