Old English unhalig, "impious, profane, wicked," from un- (1) "not" + halig (see holy). Similar formation in Middle Dutch onheilich, Old Norse uheilagr, Danish unhellig, Swedish ohelig. In reference to actions, it is attested from late 14c. Colloquial sense of "awful, dreadful" is recorded from 1842.
Entries linking to unholy
prefix of negation, Old English un-, from Proto-Germanic *un- (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Old High German, German un-, Gothic un-, Dutch on-), from PIE *n- (source of Sanskrit a-, an- "not," Greek a-, an-, Old Irish an-, Latin in-), combining form of PIE root *ne- "not." Often euphemistic (such as untruth for "lie").
The most prolific of English prefixes, freely and widely used in Old English, where it forms more than 1,000 compounds. It underwent a mass extinction in early Middle English, but emerged with renewed vigor 16c. to form compounds with native and imported words. It disputes with Latin-derived cognate in- (1) the right to form the negation of certain words (indigestable/undigestable, etc.), and though both might be deployed in cooperation to indicate shades of meaning (unfamous/infamous), typically they are not.
It also makes words from phrases (such as uncalled-for, c. 1600; undreamed-of, 1630s; uncome-at-able, 1690s; unputdownable, 1947, of a book; un-in-one-breath-utterable, Ben Jonson; etc., but the habit is not restricted to un-; such as put-up-able-with, 1812). As a prefix in telegramese to replace not and save the cost of a word, it is attested by 1936.
Old English halig "holy, consecrated, sacred; godly; ecclesiastical," from Proto-Germanic *hailaga- (source also of Old Norse heilagr, Danish hellig, Old Frisian helich "holy," Old Saxon helag, Middle Dutch helich, Old High German heilag, German heilig, Gothic hailags "holy"), from PIE *kailo- "whole, uninjured" (see health). Adopted at conversion for Latin sanctus.
The primary (pre-Christian) meaning is not possible to determine, but probably it was "that must be preserved whole or intact, that cannot be transgressed or violated," and connected with Old English hal (see health) and Old High German heil "health, happiness, good luck" (source of the German salutation Heil). Holy water was in Old English.
Holy is stronger and more absolute than any word of cognate meaning. That which is sacred may derive its sanction from man ; that which is holy has its sanctity directly from God or as connected with him. Hence we speak of the Holy Bible, and the sacred writings of the Hindus. He who is holy is absolutely or essentially free from sin; sacred is not a word of personal character. The opposite of holy is sinful or wicked; that of sacred is secular, profane, or common. [Century Dictionary, 1895]
Holy has been used as an intensifying word from 1837; in expletives since 1880s (such as holy smoke, 1883, holy mackerel, 1876, holy cow, 1914, holy moly etc.), most of them euphemisms for holy Christ or holy Moses. Holy Ghost was in Old English (in Middle English often written as one word). Holy League is used of various European alliances; the Holy Alliance was that formed personally by the sovereigns of Russia, Austria, and Prussia in 1815; it ended in 1830.
updated on April 07, 2014