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.

Example Sentences

They accused him of committing a sacrilege. They accused him of sacrilege. an act of sacrilege against the church
Recent Examples on the Web Still, to call Swift a cynic might as well be sacrilege. Lauren Puckett-pope, ELLE, 28 Oct. 2022 Remember when former New York City mayor Bill de Blasio ate pizza with a fork and knife, inflaming the pizza-loving masses who cried sacrilege and unfit leadership? Li Goldstein, Bon Appétit, 7 Oct. 2022 For Turgenev, who as a student had twice caught glimpses of Pushkin in St. Petersburg before the poet’s death, this was borderline sacrilege. Keith Gessen, The New Yorker, 29 Aug. 2022 With its glass dome rising among the prewar buildings of the Upper West Side, the Rose Center for Earth and Space was at first considered sacrilege by some residents. New York Times, 8 June 2022 But Rina Sawayama’s Hold the Girl, the second album from one of pop’s buzziest new figures, shows how sacrilege can be its own expression of soulfulness: a passionate quest to rewrite the rules you were raised with and find meaning within yourself. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, 16 Sep. 2022 All the elements were in place: sadism, sacrilege, and nonstop profanity. Chris Norris, SPIN, 13 Aug. 2022 Leaders in the Hopi tribe said last year that they weren’t consulted about the Coyotes’ kachina logo, which is a hit with fans, but sacrilege to ancient cultural, religious traditions. Greg Moore, The Arizona Republic, 21 Apr. 2022 From the minute the trailer dropped, the Austenite gatekeepers were crying sacrilege, and sure, this will rankle lovers of the novel. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 8 July 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'sacrilege.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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 29 Nov. 2022.

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

More from Merriam-Webster on sacrilege

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