Damnation (from Latin damnatio) is the concept of divine punishment and torment in an afterlife for actions committed on Earth. In Ancient Egyptian religious tradition, citizens would recite the 42 negative confessions of Maat as their heart was weighed against the feather of truth. If the citizen's heart was heavy with guilt, they would face torment in a lake of fire. Zoroastrianism developed an eschatological concept of a Last Judgment called Frashokereti where the dead will be raised and the righteous wade though a river of milk while the wicked will be burned in a river of molten metal. Abrahamic religions such as Christianity have similar concepts of believers facing judgement on a last day to determine if they will spend eternity in Gehenna or heaven for their sin [Mark 3:29]. A damned human "in damnation" is said to be either in Gehenna, or living in a state wherein they are divorced from Heaven and/or in a state of disgrace from God's favor. In traditional Abrahamic demonology, the Devil rules Gehenna, where he and his demons punish the damned.

Following the religious meaning, the words damn and goddamn are a common form of religious profanity, in modern times often semantically weakened to the status of mere interjections.


Classical Latin damnum means "damage, cost, expense; penalty, fine", ultimately from a PIE root *dap-. The verb damnare in Roman law acquired a legal meaning of "to pronounce judgement upon".

The word enters Middle English usage from Old French in the early 14th century. The secular meaning survives in English "to condemn" (in a court of law), or "damning criticism". The noun damnation itself is mostly reserved for the religious sense in Modern English, while condemnation remains common in secular usage.

During the 18th century and until about 1930, the use of damn as an expletive was considered a severe profanity and was mostly avoided in print. The expression "not worth a damn" is recorded in 1802.[1] The use of damn as an adjective, short for damned, is recorded in 1775. Damn Yankee (a Southern US term for "Northerner") dates back to 1812.


In some forms of Western Christian belief, damnation to hell is what humanity deserves for its sins. Many Catholic and Protestant denominations hold that human sin is the product of the fall of man of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. In some Christian denominations, only the sins that the Ten Commandments describe cause damnation, but others apply more strict terms. The reasons for being damned have varied widely through the centuries, with little consistency between different forms of Christianity (i.e., Catholic or Protestant). "Sins" ranging from murder to dancing have been said to lead to damnation. Christian denominations have differing views on soteriology, but a mainstream view is that believers can only escape damnation by salvation from Jesus Christ.

One conception is of suffering and denial of entrance to Heaven, often described in the book of Revelation as burning in a Lake of Fire. Another conception, derived from the scripture about Gehenna is simply that people will be discarded (burned), as being unworthy of preservation by God.

In Eastern Christian traditions (Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy), as well as some Western traditions, it is seen as a state of opposition to the love of God, a state into which all humans are born but against which Jesus Christ is the Mediator and Redeemer. Eastern traditions have established their views on Paradise and Gehenna from theologians like Isaac of Nineveh and Basil of Caesarea and the Fathers of the Church. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition theologians can describe God by presenting negative descriptions of what God is not, and describe Gehenna in similar ways.


Islam has a similar notion of a Last Judgment and damnation as Christianity. Similar to God in Christianity, Allah is depicted as forgiving (Al-Ghafir) apart from idolatry, which is unforgivable, as in the New Testament blasphemy of the Holy Ghost is where somebody is in a state of unforgiveness and the blasphemer will face judgement for not repenting.

As profanity

Historically, from the 19th century until the 1930s, the exclamation "damn" was generally considered unprintable and typically rendered as "d--n".[2] Rhett Butler's parting line - "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" - to Scarlett O'Hara in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind challenged sensitivities at the time.

"Damn" today is a mildly profane word in English, although "God damn" (or "Goddamn") may be considered blasphemous by religious people, who regard it as a violation of the commandment against taking God's name in vain. "Dang" (mainly US) or "darn" are common euphemisms, specifically minced oaths, for "damn". The profanity of "damn" and its derivatives (e.g. "damned", "damnation") is effectively limited to cases where the word is not used in its literal meaning, e.g. "The damned dog won't stop barking!" (but the line of Arthur Miller's character Proctor[3] to his servant, "God damns all liars" uses the word in its literal sense and has not been seen as objectionable). Use of the word or its derivatives in their figurative forms may impact on the ratings of movies and television programmes.

In Indian English, there is an incorrect etymology connecting "I don't give a damn" with the dam, a 16th-century copper coin. Salman Rushdie, in a 1985 essay on the dictionary of Anglo-Indian terms 'Hobson-Jobson', ends with this:

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a small copper coin weighing one tolah, eight mashas and seven surkhs, being the fortieth part of a rupee'. Or, to put it more concisely, a dam."[4]

See also


  1. Wood, J. (1802). The History Of The Administration Of John Adams, Late President Of The United States. p. 187. OCLC 21065740. https://archive.org/details/historyofadminis00wood. 
  2. Pearsall, Ronald (1969). The Worm in the Bud. Weidenfeld & Nicholson. 
  3. Miller, Arthur (1953). The Crucible (play). 
  4. Salman Rushdie's Hobson-Jobson essay, in the book Travelers' Tales India by James O'Reilly and Larry Habegger

Further reading

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