12世纪初, 从古法语 saint, seinte “圣人; 圣物”, 取代或改变了古英语 sanct, 两者都来自拉丁语 sanctus “圣洁, 奉献” (在拉丁语晚期用作名词; 也是西班牙语 santo, santa, 意大利语 san 等的来源), 正确的 sancire “奉献” 的过去分词(见 sacred). 采用到大多数日耳曼语中(古弗里斯兰语 sankt, 荷兰语 sint, 德语 Sanct).
最初是一个形容词, 前缀在一个被封为圣徒的人的名字上; 到14世纪, 它被视为一个名词. 意为“非凡圣洁的人”, 记载于1560年代. Saint Bernard, 獒犬的品种(1839年), 因圣伯纳德山口(意大利和瑞士之间) 安养院的僧侣们派它们去救援雪地上的旅行者而得名. St. Elmo's Fire “corposant” (1560年代) 来自意大利语 fuoco di Sant'Elmo, 因地中海水手的守护神而得名, 是对 St. Erasmus, 303年殉难的意大利主教名字的腐化.
Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. The Duchess of Orleans relates that the irreverent old calumniator, Marshal Villeroi, who in his youth had known St. Francis de Sales, said, on hearing him called saint: 'I am delighted to hear that Monsieur de Sales is a saint. He was fond of saying indelicate things, and used to cheat at cards. In other respects he was a perfect gentleman, though a fool. ' [Ambrose Bierce, “Devil's Dictionary,” 1911]
Perhaps you have imagined that this humility in the saints is a pious illusion at which God smiles. That is a most dangerous error. It is theoretically dangerous, because it makes you identify a virtue (i. e. , a perfection) with an illusion (i. e. , an imperfection), which must be nonsense. It is practically dangerous because it encourages a man to mistake his first insights into his own corruption for the first beginnings of a halo round his own silly head. No, depend upon it; when the saints say that they—even they—are vile, they are recording truth with scientific accuracy. [C. S. Lewis, “The Problem of Pain,” 1940]