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[hoh-lee] /ˈhoʊ li/

adjective, holier, holiest.
specially recognized as or declared sacred by religious use or authority; consecrated:
holy ground.
dedicated or devoted to the service of God, the church, or religion:
a holy man.
saintly; godly; pious; devout:
a holy life.
having a spiritually pure quality:
a holy love.
entitled to worship or veneration as or as if sacred:
a holy relic.
holy rites.
inspiring fear, awe, or grave distress:
The director, when angry, is a holy terror.
noun, plural holies.
a place of worship; sacred place; sanctuary.
adjective holier, holiest
of, relating to, or associated with God or a deity; sacred
endowed or invested with extreme purity or sublimity
devout, godly, or virtuous
holier-than-thou, offensively sanctimonious or self-righteous: a holier-than-thou attitude
holy terror

noun (pl) -lies


Old English halig “holy, consecrated, sacred, godly,” from Proto-Germanic *hailaga- (cf. Old Norse heilagr, Old Frisian helich “holy,” Old Saxon helag, Middle Dutch helich, Old High German heilag, German heilig, Gothic hailags “holy”). Adopted at conversion for Latin sanctus.

Primary (pre-Christian) meaning is not possible to determine, but probably it was “that must be preserved whole or intact, that cannot be transgressed or violated,” and connected with Old English hal (see health) and Old High German heil “health, happiness, good luck” (source of the German salutation Heil). Holy water was in Old English. Holy has been used as an intensifying word from 1837; used in expletives since 1880s (e.g. holy smoke, 1883, holy mackerel, 1876, holy cow, 1914, holy moly etc.), most of them euphemisms for holy Christ or holy Moses.


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