blas·​phe·​my | \ˈblas-fə-mē \
plural blasphemies

Definition of blasphemy 

1a : the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God accused of blasphemy

b : the act of claiming the attributes of a deity for a mere man to suggest that he was … divine could only be viewed … as blasphemy— John Bright †1889

2 : irreverence toward something considered sacred or inviolable

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The Origins of Blasphemy

Blasphemy came into the English language in the 13th century, and for the first several hundred years of its life had but a single meaning, “the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God.” By the early 17th century it began to be applied figuratively to irreverence for things held in great respect that were not necessarily divine in nature, as in the phrase, “a blasphemy against friendship.”

Blasphemy shares a root with blame; both words may be traced to the Greek blasphēmein (“to speak ill of, blaspheme"). Despite the fact that these words are connected, they have diverged sufficiently over the centuries that the meanings are now quite distinct.

Examples of blasphemy in a Sentence

She was condemned by the church for uttering blasphemies. in the 17th century the Quakers were persecuted for beliefs and practices that older churches regarded as blasphemies

Recent Examples on the Web

Hundreds, including many Muslims, languish in Pakistani jails under the blasphemy laws, which include a mandatory death sentence for insults to the prophet Muhammad. Saeed Shah, WSJ, "Pakistani Woman Acquitted of Blasphemy Is Caught in Legal Limbo," 12 Nov. 2018 He was killed by his own bodyguard for criticizing the country’s harsh blasphemy laws. Pamela Constable, Washington Post, "Islamist terrorism wanes in Pakistan, but religious fervor threatens national unity," 7 May 2018 Toughest of all, however, is the matter of blasphemy, as it might be interpreted by some conservative adherents of Islam. Charles Desmarais, San Francisco Chronicle, "Talepasand takes on pleasure, religion and Iran at Jack Fischer Gallery," 5 June 2018 Putting a motor on a bicycle is quickly dismissed as blasphemy by real cyclists. Jay Bennett, Popular Mechanics, "A Weekend With a $16,000 Mountain Bike," 8 Mar. 2017 Pakistan’s legal code criminalizes blasphemy with a maximum punishment of the death penalty. Laignee Barron, Time, "A Man Was Denied Asylum in the U.K. Because He Couldn't Answer Questions About Greek Philosophers," 19 Jan. 2018 The then incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was also convicted of blasphemy against Islam and is serving a two-year prison sentence. Anita Rachman, WSJ, "Jakarta’s Governor, Backed by Islamic Conservatives, Sets Up Vice Showdown," 26 Mar. 2018 The blasphemy clause has drawn some support elsewhere. New York Times, "Next in Irish Voters’ Cross Hairs? A Law Banning Blasphemy," 13 June 2018 To some, crude humor about a religious leader can be considered both blasphemy and hate speech against all followers of that faith. James Freeman, WSJ, "Facebook’s 10,000 New Editors," 16 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'blasphemy.' 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 blasphemy

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for blasphemy

see blaspheme

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Statistics for blasphemy

Last Updated

29 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for blasphemy

The first known use of blasphemy was in the 13th century

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English Language Learners Definition of blasphemy

: great disrespect shown to God or to something holy

: something said or done that is disrespectful to God or to something holy


blas·​phe·​my | \ˈblas-fə-mē \
plural blasphemies

Legal Definition of blasphemy 

: the crime of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God or a religion and its doctrines and writings and especially God as perceived by Christianity and Christian doctrines and writings

Note: In many states, blasphemy statutes have been repealed as contrary to the First Amendment.

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