nemesis

noun

nem·​e·​sis ˈne-mə-səs How to pronounce nemesis (audio)
1
capitalized : the Greek goddess of retributive justice
2
plural nemeses ˈne-mə-ˌsēz How to pronounce nemesis (audio)
a
: one that inflicts retribution or vengeance
Many a pursued man fell before his nemesis in the streets …Agnes Morely Cleaveland
b
: a formidable and usually victorious rival or opponent
The team was defeated by its old nemesis.
3
plural nemeses
a
: an act or effect of retribution
… pursue them with the nemesis of outraged humanity.Donald Culross Peattie
b
: bane sense 1
A nemesis of humankind since the first hand slapped the first cheek, mosquitoes have bitten their way into the American experience …Jack Cox

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Nemesis and Greek Mythology

Nemesis was the Greek goddess of vengeance, a deity who doled out rewards for noble acts and punishment for evil ones. The Greeks believed that Nemesis didn't always punish an offender immediately but might wait generations to avenge a crime. In English, nemesis originally referred to someone who brought a just retribution, but nowadays people are more likely to see simple animosity rather than justice in the actions of a nemesis (consider the motivations of Batman’s perennial foe the Joker, for example).

Examples of nemesis in a Sentence

On just the kind of putt that had been a career-long nemesis, he kept his head perfectly still and knocked the ball squarely in the hole. Jaime Diaz, Sports Illustrated, 20 Feb. 1995
Japan and Iraq have been floated as possible successors for the role once filled by Amercia's old nemesis, the Soviet Union … Michiko Kakutani, New York Times, 18 June 1993
In the beginning were the words, winged at first until, paralysed, they fell to earth and were imprisoned by their nemesis, the alphabet. Erich Segal, Times Literary Supplement, 12 July 1991
Thus, once surgeons implant the new graft, tissue rejection—the unforgiving nemesis of most transplant attempts—occurs in only 3% to 5% of cases. Christine Gorman et al., Time, 7 Dec. 1987
He will be playing his old nemesis for the championship. Batman is the Joker's main nemesis and always foils his wicked plots. See More
Recent Examples on the Web Ferrell voices Gru’s new nemesis Maxime Le Mal, while Vergara plays Maxime’s femme fatale girlfriend Valentina. Valerie Wu, Variety, 28 Jan. 2024 First, the archrival nemesis: The Canes will face Florida State (13-1 in 2023) at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 26. Susan Miller Degnan, Miami Herald, 24 Jan. 2024 The Ravens wanted to win and push their nemesis out of the playoff race, but that was secondary. Mike Preston, Baltimore Sun, 6 Jan. 2024 Kansas City’s Harrison Butker, a long-time Chargers nemesis, is having another solid season, hitting 31 of 33 field-goal tries and 37 of 37 extra points. Jeff Miller, Los Angeles Times, 5 Jan. 2024 There’s no greater proof of that than the fact that the actor, who is virtually unrecognizable as one of Batman’s most notable nemeses, got his own spinoff. Jennifer M. Wood, WIRED, 1 Jan. 2024 In 14th century Europe, for example, syphilis had a different informal name depending on the region and its nemesis. Isabella Cueto, STAT, 28 Dec. 2023 Today, however, the face is best known as the inspiration for Batman’s iconic nemesis, the Joker. Ellen Wexler, Smithsonian Magazine, 28 Dec. 2023 His nemesis is the perfectly coifed Diana Taverner, played by Kristin Scott-Thomas as an ice queen inexpertly climbing to the top of MI5’s greasy pole. Stephen Rodrick, Variety, 29 Nov. 2023 See More

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

Word History

Etymology

borrowed from Latin, borrowed from Greek némesis "retribution, righteous anger, blame," probably derivative (with -esis, analogically extended form of -sis, -tis, suffix of action nouns) of némein "to rule, distribute, apportion" — more at nimble

First Known Use

1561, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of nemesis was in 1561

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Cite this Entry

“Nemesis.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nemesis. Accessed 23 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition

nemesis

noun
nem·​e·​sis ˈnem-ə-səs How to pronounce nemesis (audio)
plural nemeses -ə-ˌsēz How to pronounce nemesis (audio)
1
a
: one that punishes or avenges
b
: a formidable and usually victorious rival or opponent
2
: an act or instance of just punishment

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