Anathema: Understanding a Word of Powerful Dislike

The word “anathema” carries serious weight. It expresses a deep-seated dislike, loathing, or even a formal curse. Let’s explore its nuances and how to deploy this word effectively.

Meaning of Anathema

Anathema has two primary meanings:

  1. Intense Dislike: Something or someone you vehemently detest. You wouldn’t use it for mild annoyance, but rather for things you fundamentally find abhorrent.
  2. Formal Curse: In a religious context, anathema historically referred to an official denouncement or excommunication from a church.

When to Use “Anathema”

This word is best reserved for situations where you want to express strong aversion:

  • Moral Repugnance: “Slavery is anathema to the principles of freedom.”
  • Fundamental Opposition: “That political ideology is anathema to everything I believe in.”
  • Personal Detestation: “Pineapple on pizza? That’s anathema to me!” (Can be used with a slightly humorous touch).

When Not to Use “Anathema”

Avoid using it in these cases:

  • Trivial Dislikes: Don’t call bad weather or a long commute “anathema.” It’s too intense for everyday annoyances.
  • Casual Settings: This word can sound overly dramatic and out of place in informal conversations.
  • To Offend Gratuitously: While the word conveys dislike, use it to express genuine convictions, not to simply insult someone.

Historical Context

The word “anathema” comes from Greek and originally referred to an offering dedicated to a deity. Its meaning shifted over time to represent things set apart as cursed or devoted to destruction, leading to its association with formal religious pronouncements.


  • “Her cruelty to animals was anathema to him.”
  • “The dictator’s regime declared all opposition movements anathema.”
  • “After reading about the company’s unethical practices, their products became anathema to many consumers.”

In Conclusion

“Anathema” is a potent word to express deep-rooted dislike or condemnation. Knowing its nuances helps ensure you’re using it with accuracy and impact.

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