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[hee-th uh n] /ˈhi ðən/ Disparaging and Offensive.
noun, plural heathens, heathen.
(in historical contexts) an individual of a people that do not acknowledge the God of the Bible; a person who is neither a Jew, Christian, nor Muslim; a pagan.
Informal. an irreligious, uncultured, or uncivilized person.
of or relating to heathens; pagan.
Informal. irreligious, uncultured, or uncivilized.
Origin of heathen
before 900; Middle English hethen, Old English hǣthen, akin to German Heide, heidnisch (adj.), Old Norse heithingi (noun), heithinn (adj.), Gothic haithno (noun); perhaps akin to heath
Related forms
heathendom, noun
heathenhood, noun
heathenness, noun
heathenship, noun
half-heathen, adjective, noun
nonheathen, noun, plural nonheathens, nonheathen, adjective
unheathen, adjective
Synonym Study
See pagan. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for heathen
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • It is not fitting for Christians to hold a festival in honor of a heathen god.

    Buried Cities, Part 2 Jennie Hall
  • My opinion then, is, that he wants to be transported, if he is to turn up such a heathen as that!

    The Channings Mrs. Henry Wood
  • The truth is that you were a lady at the Court of Clovis, and I was a heathen captive.

    The Gentleman From Indiana Booth Tarkington
  • I asked him what were heathen lands, and he said they were countries where heathen lived.

    The Harbor Ernest Poole
  • Steadily drearier grew the ocean, flatter all the heathen lands.

    The Harbor Ernest Poole
  • Water from here to Naples, water from here to heathen lands.

    The Harbor Ernest Poole
  • For I am the start of the voyage—over the ocean to heathen lands!

    The Harbor Ernest Poole
  • Some man, however, came by chance that cave within to the heathen hoard.

    Beowulf Anonymous
British Dictionary definitions for heathen


noun (pl) -thens, -then
a person who does not acknowledge the God of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam; pagan
an uncivilized or barbaric person
(functioning as pl) the heathen, heathens collectively
irreligious; pagan
unenlightened; uncivilized; barbaric
of or relating to heathen peoples or their religious, moral, and other customs, practices, and beliefs
Derived Forms
heathenism, heathenry, noun
heathenness, noun
Word Origin
Old English hǣthen; related to Old Norse heithinn, Old Frisian hēthin, Old High German heidan
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for heathen

Old English hæðen "not Christian or Jewish," also as a noun, "heathen man" (especially of the Danes), merged with Old Norse heiðinn (adj.) "heathen, pagan."

Perhaps literally "pertaining to one inhabiting uncultivated land," from heath + -en (2). But historically assumed to be from Gothic haiþno "gentile, heathen woman," used by Ulfilas in the first translation of the Bible into a Germanic language (cf. Mark vii:26, for "Greek"); if so it could be a derivative of Gothic haiþi "dwelling on the heath," but this sense is not recorded. It may have been chosen on model of Latin paganus, with its root sense of "rural" (see pagan), or for resemblance to Greek ethne (see gentile), or it may be a literal borrowing of that Greek word, perhaps via Armenian hethanos [Sophus Bugge]. Like other basic words for exclusively Christian ideas (e.g. church) it likely would have come first into Gothic and then spread to other Germanic languages.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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