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 Onfroy — whose double- and quadruple-platinum records came alongside a dedicated cult following both within and outside of his South Florida community — was 20 years old at the time of his death. Emily Mae Czachor, CBS News, 20 Mar. 2023 The result in Eilish’s Eva getting run over multiple times by Dre, along with several of her cult members. Abbey White, The Hollywood Reporter, 19 Mar. 2023 And the Prime Video series’ fourth episode treated audiences to a little surprise: Billie Eilish’s screen acting debut as Eva, the leader of a NXIVM-like cult whose indoctrination of Dre ends in disaster. Marlow Stern, Rolling Stone, 18 Mar. 2023 Waco holds deep symbolism as the site of the 1993 Waco massacre, when federal agents seized a compound of the Branch Davidians, a religious cult. Jill Colvin, Chron, 18 Mar. 2023 Waco holds deep symbolism as the site of the 1993 Waco massacre, when federal agents seized a compound of the Branch Davidians, a religious cult. Jill Colvin, ajc, 18 Mar. 2023 Since the Swedish milk brand with a cult following landed in stores and coffee shops around the States back in 2017, sales surged by 1,200% in the following years. Ali Francis, Bon Appétit, 17 Mar. 2023 In 2019, Nithyananda, the head of a Hindu cult, reportedly set up base on a private island near Ecuador, calling it the United States of Kailasa and declaring it a Hindu nation. Harish Pullanoor, Quartz, 16 Mar. 2023 With only 500 pieces available for each design, this gold watch with pink face will undoubtedly become a cult-favorite. Angela Lei, Forbes, 14 Feb. 2023 See More

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

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 28 Mar. 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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