[hee-thuh n]Disparaging and Offensive.

noun, plural hea·thens, hea·then.

(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 formshea·then·dom, nounhea·then·hood, nounhea·then·ness, nounhea·then·ship, nounhalf-hea·then, adjective, nounnon·hea·then, noun, plural non·hea·thens, non·hea·then, adjectiveun·hea·then, adjective

Synonym study

See pagan.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for heathen

Contemporary Examples of heathen

  • They also argued that the Bible authorized slavery, and that the slaves were actually being rescued from heathen Africa.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Americans’ Burning Obsession With Hell

    William O’Connor

    September 26, 2014

  • The culprits are not Hasidic Jews running amok around the world or Tea-baggers bent on replanting Christianity among the heathen.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Only Muslims Can Stop Muslim Terror

    Leslie H. Gelb

    January 7, 2010

Historical Examples of heathen

  • It is not fitting for Christians to hold a festival in honor of a heathen god.

  • 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.

  • 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

British Dictionary definitions for heathen


noun plural -thens or -then

a person who does not acknowledge the God of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam; pagan
an uncivilized or barbaric person
the heathen (functioning as plural) heathens collectively


irreligious; pagan
unenlightened; uncivilized; barbaric
of or relating to heathen peoples or their religious, moral, and other customs, practices, and beliefs
Derived Formsheathenism or heathenry, nounheathenness, noun

Word Origin for heathen

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

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