Podcast anathema

Printable Version
Pronunciation: ê--thê-mê Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A formal ecclesiastical curse accompanied by excommunication from a church or other religious organization. 2. A strong denunciation leading to rejection or ostracism from any organization. 3. An outcast, a person or object reviled, cast out, or avoided as a result of misdoings.

Notes: Today's Good Word is hardly good; it refers to such a strong denunciation for such repulsive wrong-doing that the word itself is something of an anathema. You seldom hear it except in hyperbole, where it overstates the case. The adjective is anathematic and the verb, anathematize. The interesting aspect of this word is that it is commonly used as a mass noun without an or the, e.g. Kindness is anathema to terrorists.

In Play: The curse or the person cursed may be an anathema: "Rockefeller was known for the anathemas he placed on railway companies that carried products of Standard Oil's competitors." More often, however, it is used as a mass noun referring to the thing accursed: "The word chad has become anathema for election boards since the 2000 US elections."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Late Latin anathema "doomed offering, accursed thing", a word the Romans borrowed from Greek anatithenai, anathe- "to dedicate" based on ana- "up, back, anew"+ tithenai "to put". The original meaning was "an offering to the temple". How the Greek meaning migrated to the Latin sense of the word is something of a mystery. The Greek root tith- originated in the root *dhe/dho- "set, put," which also gave us English do and German tun "do". In Latin, the initial [dh] became [f], producing Latin facere "do, make" from which we get English factory and French faire "do, make". (We would deserve anathema were we to forget to thank Mr. Michael Mohr for his offering of today's Good Word, so we heartily thank him for it.)

Dr. Goodword,

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