sac·​ri·​lege ˈsa-krə-lij How to pronounce sacrilege (audio)
: a technical and not necessarily intrinsically outrageous violation (such as improper reception of a sacrament) of what is sacred because consecrated to God
: gross irreverence toward a hallowed person, place, or thing

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Why is sacrilegious not spelled sacreligious?

Sacrilegious is often used in reference to religion, or to religious things, so it is easy to see why people might be confused by its spelling. However, sacrilegious and religious are not from the same roots. Religious comes from the Latin word religio (“reverence, religion”), whereas sacrilegious and the related noun sacrilege come from Latin roots meaning “sacred” (sacr-) and “to steal” (legere).

The earliest sense of sacrilege, in use since the beginning of the 14th century, was concerned with the theft, misuse, or desecration of sacred or holy things. It still is used in this sense quite often, but has also taken on a broader meaning, in which it refers to irreverence to a person, place, or thing which may or may not have religious significance.

Examples of sacrilege in a Sentence

They accused him of committing a sacrilege. They accused him of sacrilege. an act of sacrilege against the church
Recent Examples on the Web All this is close to sacrilege for the people of the United Kingdom, who are thought to drink about 100 million cups of the stuff every day — about 1.5 per person — but do so without many splashes of creativity. Patrick Smith, NBC News, 24 Jan. 2024 The priest offers to ransom her with a priceless treasure, which Agamemnon spurns rudely, and Apollo punishes this sacrilege with a plague. Judith Thurman, The New Yorker, 11 Sep. 2023 These miracles, as the girls begin to call them, put her at odds with the head mother, Sister Veronica (Emily Kuroda), who views the power as an expression of evil and the girls’ use of it as sacrilege. Elaina Patton, NBC News, 3 Apr. 2023 How would an electric stove appear in a Nancy Meyers movie other than as a sacrilege along the order of linoleum at Versailles? Ginia Bellafante, New York Times, 21 Jan. 2023 But don’t mention such sacrilege to the guys on the Arrowhead Assault Vehicle. Eric Adler, Kansas City Star, 26 Jan. 2024 In This Article Local Excursions On-site Amenities The Location Cutting into the piece of staghorn coral felt like sacrilege. Samantha Falewée, Travel + Leisure, 1 Dec. 2023 His performances for the French super team Paris Saint-Germain this spring were subpar; a once-unthinkable sacrilege—home supporters targeting Messi with boos and hoots—became a regular feature of P.S.G. games. Jody Rosen, The New Yorker, 23 July 2023 And some Europeans found the riff on Dante its own species of sacrilege. Nathan Heller, Vogue, 29 Aug. 2023

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

Word History


Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin sacrilegium, from sacrilegus one who robs sacred property, from sacr-, sacer + legere to gather, steal — more at legend

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of sacrilege was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near sacrilege

Cite this Entry

“Sacrilege.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


sac·​ri·​lege ˈsak-rə-lij How to pronounce sacrilege (audio)
: theft or violation of something sacred
sacrilegious adjective
sacrilegiously adverb
sacrilegiousness noun

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