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I am getting contradictory usages of the word altar :

  1. Sacrificed his family life on the altar of career advancement(Source:Merriam Webster)
  2. You probably aren't going to like the solution, but the goal right now is not to get the perfect answer but to pass the test. We'll make our sacrifice at the altar of truth and beauty later.(Source : A book by Kent Beck on TDD

So should the usage be like on the altar OR at the altar?

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Both are dandy. –  jwpat7 Mar 5 '13 at 19:28
3  
By and large, you perform a sacrifice at an altar, but the offering/victim is sacrificed on the altar. –  StoneyB Mar 5 '13 at 19:39
2  
You lead an interesting life, StoneyB. –  Edwin Ashworth Mar 5 '13 at 19:41

1 Answer 1

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Those are not contradictory, but complementary.

The thing that is being sacrificed goes on the altar. (In sentence one, "his family life" is being sacrificed.)

The person doing the sacrificing stands at the altar. (In sentence two, "We" are making our (unspecified) sacrifice to the gods of truth and beauty.)

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