often attributive
: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious (see spurious sense 2)
also : its body of adherents
the voodoo cult
a satanic cult
: great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (such as a film or book)
criticizing how the media promotes the cult of celebrity
especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad
: the object of such devotion
: a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion
the singer's cult of fans
The film has a cult following.
: a system of religious beliefs and ritual
also : its body of adherents
the cult of Apollo
: formal religious veneration : worship
: a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator
health cults
cultic adjective
cultish adjective
cultishly adverb
cultishness noun
cultism noun
cultlike adjective

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The Overlap of Cults and Culture

Cult, which shares an origin with culture and cultivate, comes from the Latin cultus, a noun with meanings ranging from "tilling, cultivation" to "training or education" to "adoration." In English, cult has evolved a number of meanings following a fairly logical path. The earliest known uses of the word, recorded in the 17th century, broadly denoted "worship." From here cult came to refer to a specific branch of a religion or the rites and practices of that branch, as in "the cult of Dionysus." By the early 18th century, cult could refer to a non-religious admiration or devotion, such as to a person, idea, or fad ("the cult of success"). Finally, by the 19th century, the word came to be used of "a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious."

Example Sentences

She has developed a cult following. long after it had gone off the air, the TV series continued to have a huge cult
Recent Examples on the Web The direct-to-consumer beauty brand whose no-makeup aesthetic and millennial pink branding attracted a cult following is nearly 10 years old. Kinsey Crowley, Fortune, 17 May 2023 The comedy began developing a cult following in its first season, but concerns about ratings put a second season in doubt until the network suggested adding a bigger name: Danny DeVito as Frank, father to Dennis and Dee. Ryan Gajewski, The Hollywood Reporter, 12 May 2023 The film, which starred a young Josh Brolin, Ke Huy Quan, and Corey Feldman—all rising actors at the time—remains a cult classic to this day. Brittany Natale, Good Housekeeping, 10 May 2023 Is the Conglomerado Atelier do Centro, an art school in São Paulo, Brazil, actually a cult? Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times, 6 May 2023 Shein, which was founded by Chinese entrepreneur Chris Xu, initially created a cult following for its fast-fashion apparel and has since branched out into other offerings, such as home goods. Nathaniel Meyersohn, CNN, 2 May 2023 Isis, apparently, appealed to Rome’s elite, but Mithras was the god of choice for working stiffs and battle-hardened legionnaires (the cult excluded women). David Laskin Martin Pauer, New York Times, 1 May 2023 The killings prompted theories of aliens, cults, or government involvement, but appear to have gone unsolved. Lana Ferguson, Dallas News, 23 Apr. 2023 The plot also sees the star enter into a complicated relationship with a self-help guru, who also happens to be the head of a cult. Hugh Mcintyre, Forbes, 20 Apr. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'cult.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


French & Latin; French culte, from Latin cultus care, adoration, from colere to cultivate — more at wheel

First Known Use

1613, in the meaning defined at sense 4

Time Traveler
The first known use of cult was in 1613

Dictionary Entries Near cult

Cite this Entry

“Cult.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cult. Accessed 27 May. 2023.

Kids Definition


: a system of religious worship
: enthusiastic but often temporary devotion to a person, idea, or thing
: the object of such devotion
: a group of persons who belong to or show devotion to a cult
cultist noun

Medical Definition



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