sanc·​ti·​mo·​nious | \ ˌsaŋ(k)-tə-ˈmō-nē-əs How to pronounce sanctimonious (audio) , -nyəs \

Definition of sanctimonious

1 : hypocritically pious or devout a sanctimonious moralist the king's sanctimonious rebuke— G. B. Shaw
2 obsolete : possessing sanctity : holy

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Other Words from sanctimonious

sanctimoniously adverb
sanctimoniousness noun

How Shakespeare Used Sanctimonious

There's nothing sacred about "sanctimonious"-at least not any more. But in the early 1600s, the English adjective was still sometimes used to describe someone truly holy or pious (a sense that recalls the meaning of the word's Latin parent, sanctimonia). Shakespeare used both the "holy" and "holier-than-thou" senses in his work, referring in The Tempest to the "sanctimonious" (that is, "holy") ceremonies of marriage, and in Measure for Measure to describe "the sanctimonious pirate that went to sea with the Ten Commandments but scraped one out of the table." (Apparently, the pirate found the restriction on stealing a bit too inconvenient.)

Examples of sanctimonious in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Now, in 2020, the author of that report is acting as the sanctimonious guardian of congressional dignity, lecturing us all on the floor of the Senate about the unfair, improper charges against Donald Trump? TheWeek, "Watch highlights from Day 2 of Trump's impeachment defense: slamming Biden and dodging Bolton," 28 Jan. 2020 His sense of duty yields an effortful and sanctimonious movie that, at the same time, takes its place in a lamentable recent trend. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, "The Beauty of Sam Mendes’s “1917” Comes at a Cost," 7 Jan. 2020 The predictable braying from the NCAA, which sent a letter to California legislators decrying the measure, and sanctimonious college coaches arrived at SR-71 supersonic speed., "California’s Fair Pay to Play Act was signed into law," 20 Oct. 2019 Though rather sanctimonious, Mr Biden is rightly known for civility and patience. The Economist, "The stickiness of Joe Biden," 5 Dec. 2019 Acting ICE Enforcement Director Tom Homan doubled down on this sanctimonious political grandstanding. Doug Friednash, The Denver Post, "Friednash: ICE officials are weaving a false web about Colorado’s “sanctuary state”," 5 Dec. 2019 Some, especially in the western parts of the country, have long seen him as too showy and sanctimonious, an elitist do-gooder who was never up to the job., "Revelations that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada has dressed up in brownface and blackface on multiple occasions have rocked his re-election campaign, reinforcing a narrative that has dogged him throughout his political career: that he isn’t really who he portrays himself to be.," 20 Sep. 2019 Pier Kids is comprised of many such off-handed, hard-hitting moments, scenes that constantly frustrate the easy readings of both the ignorant and the sanctimonious. Keith Uhlich, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Pier Kids': Film Review | Outfest 2019," 22 July 2019 Instead, Wynn uses a different tool to humorously undermine her most sanctimonious right-wing targets: seduction. Katherine Cross, The Verge, "The Oscar Wilde of YouTube fights the alt-right with decadence and seduction," 24 Aug. 2018

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

1603, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of sanctimonious was in 1603

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Last Updated

31 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Sanctimonious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for sanctimonious


How to pronounce sanctimonious (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of sanctimonious

formal + disapproving : pretending to be morally better than other people

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