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[hoh-lee] /ˈhoʊ li/
adjective, holier, holiest.
specially recognized as or declared sacred by religious use or authority; consecrated:
holy ground.
dedicated or devoted to the service of God, the church, or religion:
a holy man.
saintly; godly; pious; devout:
a holy life.
having a spiritually pure quality:
a holy love.
entitled to worship or veneration as or as if sacred:
a holy relic.
holy rites.
inspiring fear, awe, or grave distress:
The director, when angry, is a holy terror.
noun, plural holies.
a place of worship; sacred place; sanctuary.
before 900; Middle English holi, Old English hālig, variant of hāleg, equivalent to hāl whole + -eg -y1; cognate with Dutch, German heilig, Old Norse heilagr
Can be confused
holey, holy, wholly.
1. blessed. Holy, sacred, consecrated, hallowed imply possession of a sanctity that is the object of religious veneration. Holy refers to the divine, that which has its sanctity directly from God or is connected with Him: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Something that is sacred, while sometimes accepted as entitled to religious veneration, may have its sanctity from human authority: a sacred oath. Something that is consecrated is specially or formally dedicated to some religious use: a life consecrated to service. Something that is hallowed has been made holy by being worshiped: a hallowed shrine. 4. spiritual.
3, 4. corrupt, impious. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for holy
  • We also visited a few sacred temples and happened to be there on one of the more holy days.
  • The road to the holy mountain turns sharply to the east and begins to climb.
  • From the droplets in a baptismal font to the scattering of ashes on a holy river, water blesses our lives.
  • Righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.
  • It would be the dawn of a new era of regenerative medicine, one of the holy grails of modern biology.
  • He knew that such proclamations made him seem a holy fool.
  • He calls for time-pressed adults to sample holy books and history texts.
  • It has its elaborate, formalized incantations, its holy slogans.
  • In short, chronological connectivity puts us in touch with the holy.
  • Above all, climate science has become the holy of holy: you can't question any part of it without being bad mouthed.
British Dictionary definitions for holy


adjective holier, holiest
of, relating to, or associated with God or a deity; sacred
endowed or invested with extreme purity or sublimity
devout, godly, or virtuous
holier-than-thou, offensively sanctimonious or self-righteous: a holier-than-thou attitude
holy terror
  1. a difficult or frightening person
  2. (Irish, informal) a person who is an active gambler, womanizer, etc
noun (pl) -lies
  1. a sacred place
  2. (functioning as pl) the holy, persons or things invested with holiness
Word Origin
Old English hālig, hǣlig; related to Old Saxon hēlag, Gothic hailags, German heilig; see hallow
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for holy

Old English halig "holy, consecrated, sacred, godly," from Proto-Germanic *hailaga- (cf. Old Norse heilagr, Old Frisian helich "holy," Old Saxon helag, Middle Dutch helich, Old High German heilag, German heilig, Gothic hailags "holy"). Adopted at conversion for Latin sanctus.

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 has been used as an intensifying word from 1837; used in expletives since 1880s (e.g. holy smoke, 1883, holy mackerel, 1876, holy cow, 1914, holy moly etc.), most of them euphemisms for holy Christ or holy Moses.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Encyclopedia Article for holy


the power, being, or realm understood by religious persons to be at the core of existence and to have a transformative effect on their lives and destinies. Other terms, such as holy, divine, transcendent, ultimate being (or reality), mystery, and perfection (or purity) have been used for this domain. "Sacred" is also an important technical term in the scholarly study and interpretation of religions

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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