Word of the Week: Anathema

Word: anathema

Pronunciation: ə-NA-thə-mə

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: something or someone that one vehemently dislikes

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


George: Students can’t clean. It’s anathema. [Jerry looks confused] …They don’t like it.

Jerry: How long have you been waiting to squeeze that into a conversation?

Seinfeld (Season 2, Episode 6 – The Statue)

Yep, it’s another word from Seinfeld! I’m sure we all know someone who will occasionally learn a new word and sit on it until they finally find the right moment to show it off in conversation (even if they don’t always get it right). In George’s case, that moment is during a conversation with Jerry about the grad student who’s coming to clean the apartment. Although Jerry’s response focuses on the unusual word itself, George may have a point; messy dorm rooms everywhere attest to the idea that cleaning is “anathema” to students!

“Anathema” refers to someone or something that one vehemently dislikes. The word arose in the early 16th century as an ecclesiastical Latin noun meaning “excommunication”. This noun stems from the Greek noun anáthema “accursed thing”, which in turn derives from the verb anatíthēmi “to set upon”.

Aside from its first definition, “anathema” can be used in a more specific context as a word for “a formal curse by a pope or a council of the Church, excommunicating a person or denouncing a doctrine”. It can also function as a literary term meaning “a strong curse”. Interestingly, while the original Greek noun referred simply to an offering, the word was later influenced by the Hebrew noun herem “excommunication”, leading to the modern word’s negative connotation. If there are certain people or things your characters really don’t like, you may find a good use for “anathema” in your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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