heathen

adjective
hea·then | \ˈhē-t͟hən \

Definition of heathen 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : of or relating to people or nations that do not acknowledge the God of the Bible : of or relating to heathens (see heathen entry 2 sense 1), their religions, or their customs : pagan heathen rituals

heathen

noun
plural heathens or heathen

Definition of heathen (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : an unconverted member of a people or nation who does not acknowledge the God of the Bible

2 : an uncivilized or irreligious person

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Other Words from heathen

Noun

heathendom \ˈhē-t͟hən-dəm \ noun
heathenism \ˈhē-t͟hə-ˌni-zəm \ noun
heathenize \ˈhē-t͟hə-ˌnīz \ transitive verb

Synonyms & Antonyms for heathen

Synonyms: Adjective

barbarian, barbaric, barbarous, heathenish, Neanderthal (or Neandertal), rude, savage, uncivil, uncivilized, uncultivated, wild

Synonyms: Noun

gentile, idolater (or idolator), pagan

Antonyms: Adjective

civilized

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What Do pagan and heathen Really Mean?

Pagan is derived from the Late Latin paganus, which was used at the end of the Roman Empire to name those who practiced a religion other than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. Early Christians often used the term to refer to non-Christians who worshiped multiple deities. In Latin, paganus originally meant “country dweller” or “civilian;” it is believed that the word’s religious meanings developed either from the enduring non-Christian religious practices of those who lived far from the Roman cities where Christianity was more quickly adopted, or from the fact that early Christians referred to themselves as “soldiers of Christ,” making nonbelievers “civilians.”

The definition and etymology of heathen overlap with those of pagan: both words denote “an unconverted member of a people or nation that does not acknowledge the God of the Bible,” and heathen, like pagan, is believed to have come from the term for a country inhabitant, or in this case, a "heath dweller."

Both words have developed broader and pejorative meanings over time, with pagan being used to mean “an irreligious or hedonistic person” and heathen “uncivilized” or “strange,” but their original meanings are still in use.

Examples of heathen in a Sentence

Adjective

old missionaries who mistakenly thought that they were going off to China to tame the heathen hordes

Noun

a missionary sent to distant lands to convert the heathens European colonizers, who considered the New World peoples to be heathens, forced them to conform to European ways.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Each essay will identify a contemporary issue, discuss it through the lens of heathen myths, and suggest a solution based on heathen ideals. Sigal Samuel, The Atlantic, "What To Do When Racists Try To Hijack Your Religion," 2 Nov. 2017 The intrigues of those heathen adversaries moreover qualified as badges of honor. Robert Dallek, The Hive, "How Will History Judge the Trump Presidency?," 7 Sep. 2017 Generally they were born the slaves of barbarian masters, untaught in all the useful arts and occupations, reared in heathen darkness, they were transferred to shores enlightened by the rays of Christianity. Joseph Goodman, AL.com, "Confederate monuments offend, but there is something much worse in Alabama," 25 May 2017

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Savages and heathens, lowly and oppressed, hailed and welcomed it at the far end of the wide world. Josh Axelrod And Saeed Ahmed, CNN, "It's Flag Day. Here are some fun facts about the American flag you may not have known," 14 June 2018 And then there are the crusaders who are trying to claim the heathen Eastern European lands for democracy and freedom. Keith Gessen, New York Times, "The Quiet Americans Behind the U.S.-Russia Imbroglio," 8 May 2018 Stupid American heathens bringing their fancy tuxedos into houses of worship. Jessica Pan, The Cut, "The 10 Most Bizarre Royal Etiquette Rules," 17 May 2018 The heathen Cardinals are in town tonight, for the first of four. Paul Daugherty, Cincinnati.com, "Paul Daugherty blog: Second-guessing season begins for 2018 Cincinnati Reds, Bryan Price," 12 Apr. 2018 The timing of this brouhaha — not just in the liturgical calendar, but for Americans, in an era of 24/7 preoccupation with the heathen in the White House — has obviously been noticed by the faithful: LMAO. Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, "Did Pope Francis Abolish Hell?," 30 Mar. 2018 Regardless, a little heathen-media disrespeck never hurt a team needing to avoid 1st-round disaster. Paul Daugherty, Cincinnati.com, "Doc: In NCAA Basketball Tournament, landmines abound for Xavier; UC has the easier path," 12 Mar. 2018 Anyone who besmirches his sanctity is a heathen, a liar or—even worse—a Democrat. Michael Harriot, The Root, "Donald Trump: White Jesus," 12 Feb. 2018 The point was to propagate, from the loudest bully pulpit in history, the worst stereotypes of Muslims as bearded heathen coming to destroy Western culture and civilization. Omer Aziz, New Republic, "My President Was an Islamophobe," 22 Dec. 2017

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

Adjective

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for heathen

Adjective

Middle English hethen, from Old English hǣthen; akin to Old High German heidan heathen, and probably to Old English hǣth heath

Noun

see heathen entry 1

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Time Traveler for heathen

The first known use of heathen was before the 12th century

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More Definitions for heathen

heathen

adjective
hea·then | \ˈhē-t͟hən \

Kids Definition of heathen

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : relating to people who do not know about and worship the God of the Bible

2 : not civilized

heathen

noun
plural heathens or heathen

Kids Definition of heathen (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : a person who does not know about and worship the God of the Bible : pagan

2 : an uncivilized person

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More from Merriam-Webster on heathen

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for heathen

Spanish Central: Translation of heathen

Nglish: Translation of heathen for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of heathen for Arabic Speakers

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