Abhor - abominate

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Confusion sometimes exists around the spelling (and etymology) of abhor and abominate, and other words related to them. Their meanings are not dissimilar: this makes it all the more important to spell them correctly. Otherwise, you may irritate your reader, which is the last thing any student writing for a marker should want to do; and all writers always should aim to get the reader on their side. (For more on these words, see abhorrence - abhorrent.)

  • The verb 'to abhor', like the noun abhorrence and the adjective abhorrent, has an '-h-'. The central meaning is of 'disgust', 'loathing' or 'hatred': 'to abhor' is 'to regard with disgust or loathing'; abhorrence is the 'feeling of loathing or disgust', 'a rejection of something felt to be vile' - or, at times, 'the thing which is loathed'; abhorrent means 'hateful', 'loathsome'. See also Abhorrence - abhorrent. (Abhor etc are derived from the Latin ab 'from' and horrēre , which also gives us the words
    • horrible, meaning always causing horror', or 'repulsive'
    • horrid (now 'causing disgust or aversion', 'revolting', 'unpleasant'; the Latin meant 'bristling')
    • horrify, 'to evoke or cause a feeling of horror
    • horror. "The prevalent use at all times", as OED says (meaning 3. a.), "A painful emotion compounded of loathing and fear; a shuddering with terror and repugnance; strong aversion mingled with dread; the feeling excited by something shocking or frightful. Also in weaker sense, intense dislike or repugnance."; the Latin was originally a literal 'standing on end' or 'bristling (of the hair', and moved to mean 'coarseness of speech', and then 'shaking', 'trembling with fear'.
  • 'To abominate' and its related words have NO '-h-'. The verb means 'to hate', 'to loathe': one of the synonyms that OED gives for it is 'to abhor'. It is derived from a Latin verb constructed from ab 'from' and the genitive form of 'omen', ominis, together meaning 'to avert an [evil] omen', and hence 'to hold that something is evil or to be detested, feared and hated'.
    • The adjective abominable means 'fit to be abominated or hated', 'loathsome, vile'; '[something that] excites loathing or disgust'.
      • Its use in the phrase 'Abominable Snowman' to label the yeti, a legendary primate claimed to dwell above the snow-line in the Himalayas, is apparently due to a misunderstanding of a Tibetan adjective meaning 'dirty', 'filthy' or 'dressed in rags'.
    • The noun an abomination is, first,
      • a feeling of disgust. In Early Modern English, the phrase 'to have [something] in abomination' was 'to loathe or detest [that thing (or person)]'; secondly,
      • something that one ought to hate or loathe. The commoner sense in the Authorized Version of the Bible, and much early Protestant theological writing and in Puritan authors of all times, who like to talk of the abomination of sodomy, for example, as the Protestants did of the 'abomination of Rome' = the Pope) is 'something that should be detested'; 'a loathsome or wicked practice or sin'; and, in its weakest uses, 'something of which the writer disapproves.'

The confusion of the spellings of the two words is very old. Abominate (etc) was often written abhominable from at least the 13th century, in French as well as in English. It was believed (wrongly) to derive from Latin ab 'from' hominem 'man', and thus to mean 'inhuman', 'to be detested because sub- (or anti-) human'.