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I want to decry an act or object as having heathen-like qualities. I would call it *heathenous, except apparently this word is neither in the dictionaries nor oft-seen by google.

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The word you are looking for is heathen, as JSBangs has noted. The only other adjective is heathenish... – Jimi Oke Jan 14 '11 at 1:08
Also, I'm sure you wanted another asterisk after heathenous ;) – Jimi Oke Jan 14 '11 at 1:14
@Jimi Oke: No, an asterisk after the word would be a way of marking up emphasis. Preceding a word by an asterisk is conventional notation for a form that isn't correct or attested. – ShreevatsaR Jan 14 '11 at 3:44
@ShreevatasR: Thanks for enlightening me! – Jimi Oke Jan 14 '11 at 4:17
Why do you want to decry something as having heathen-like qualities? – ShreevatsaR Jan 15 '11 at 1:50
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Depending on the context in which you intend to use it, there are a few options:

  • heathen: this is also an adjective, so it would seem the most obvious choice
  • pagan: denotes non-Christian or pre-Christian, with no strong positive or negative connotation per se; in modern times also of a spiritualist movement
  • unchristian: has a negative connotation: lacking all traditional Christian virtues, especially charity
  • heretical: denotes being antagonistic to standard thinking
  • barbarous: connotes cruelty and crudeness
  • barbaric: connotes being primitive, especially as regards gaudy decoration
  • barbarian: most neutral word for being uncivilised
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If you want to suggest that the idea is antagonistic to standard thinking in particular "Heretical" is a good word. – glenatron Jan 14 '11 at 15:39
@Glenatron: That is actually much more to the point than my description—I have substituted it for mine. – Cerberus Jan 14 '11 at 16:02

Simply use "heathen".

These heathen rites will bring down the wrath of the Flying Spaghetti Monster on our heads.

This doesn't work so well as a predicate, adjective, however. In that context, there is no derivative of heathen that will work, so I'd go with pagan.

? This belief is heathen. [Sounds very odd.]

This belief is pagan. [Sounds fine, means almost the same thing.]

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This belief is heathen doesn't sound very odd to me. Granted, heathen usually modifies gods, etc. – Jimi Oke Jan 14 '11 at 1:11
Since there are self-described (neo-)pagans, and I'm not aware (could be wrong) that there are (neo-)heathens, I'd stick with heathen anyway. I mean that heathen seems to be neutral while pagan could be taken to refer to the mentioned groups. – Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 14 '11 at 14:34
@jae, I agree. I think in current practice at least, heathen means "not having our religious beliefs", while pagan means "having religious beliefs, which are not ours". I.e. the former just says "not Us", while the latter says "Them". – Marthaª Jan 14 '11 at 16:23
@Martha, actually I agree, too. The only difference is that I wouldn't normally use the word "heathen" in a modern context at all--it sounds old-fashioned to archaic, and in any context where I would use the word "heathen", it would be basically synonymous with "pagan". – JSBձոգչ Jan 14 '11 at 17:38

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