The Language Magpie (A is for...)

Welcome to the the first instalment of 'The Language Magpie' - as I mentioned in last weeks Wednesday Wishlist every fortnight I will be collecting a shiny piece of language, be it a new word, an interesting anecdote or a forgotten rule, and sharing it it with you!

What better place to start than at the beginning with the letter A....


I came across the word anathema while reading The Simple Things magazine a few weeks ago having never heard it before. Apart from being able to tell from the context that it was negative, I had no idea of it's meaning, or how to definitely pronounce it, so I went and did some research....

It turns out it is pronounced exactly as it looks - an-eth-e-ma, and is indeed a negative word. 

Its meaning comes from the Greek word meaning 'thing devoted to evil, or accursed thing.' In English it now most commonly means 'something or someone that one vehemently dislikes', for example:

Rudeness was anathema to him.


The evil dictator was considered anathema. 

However, if we look back further to its Latin meaning, it also has a religious link. Anathema could also be used to refer to being cut off from the church and no longer welcomed, or more strongly condemned to hell! For example:

He was threatened with anathema if his behaviour continued.


An anathema was issued against her meaning she could never return.

Conversely, before the Greek definition of 'devoted to evil', anathema used to simply mean "devoted to" - which is generally positive! So it's meaning has changed quite drastically, but in modern English it generally only refers to something very negative!  

Some variations on the word are:

Anathematised - 'He anathematised them for being so inconsiderate'

Anathematic - 'His behaviour was anathematic'

Plus one I particularly like:

Anathematiser, which means to be exceedingly critical, for example - 'She was an anathematiser of new ideas.' 

There we have it! All rather serious, and given than the article I first read the word in was all about tea it seems a little strong (no tea pun intended there!)

Some other enjoyable 'A' words are...


If you don't already know what they mean, do go and look them up!  

I hope you enjoyed this new addition to The Salted Tail, and I'd really love to hear your feedback! I'll be back with more wordy goodness in a fortnight! 


1 comment

  1. I am most definitely NOT anathematiser of this post! Really enjoyed this and am looking forward to the series - this is one of those words that I recognise but could never be 100% certain of the meaning. Now I know!

    C x