AskDefine | Define enthusiasm

Dictionary Definition



1 a feeling of excitement
2 overflowing with enthusiasm [syn: exuberance, ebullience]
3 a lively interest; "enthusiasm for his program is growing"

User Contributed Dictionary



First attested from 1603, from , from ‘possessed by a god’, from ‘in’ + ‘god’.


  • /ɛnˈθjuːzɪæzəm/


  1. In the context of "obsolete|or|historical": Possession by a god; divine inspiration or frenzy.
    • 1946: The intoxication that they sought was that of ‘enthusiasm’, of union with the god. — Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, ch. 1
  2. Intensity of feeling; excited interest or eagerness.


feeling of excited, lively interest

Extensive Definition

Enthusiasm ( enthousiasmos) originally meant inspiration or possession by a divine afflatus or by the presence of a god. Johnson's Dictionary, the first comprehensive dictionary of the English language, defines enthusiasm as "a vain belief of private revelation; a vain confidence of divine favour or communication." In current English vernacular the word simply means intense enjoyment, interest, or approval.

Historical usage

Enthusiasm (ἐνθουσιασμός) root - en-theos = in God. An enthusiast is a person inspired by god. *see: Biblical inspiration - (inspiration Greek - θεοπνευστος - Theopneustos = literally God breathed) When the early Christians would see someone convert to Christianity there was this overwhelming joy that followed the gift of Salvation but they had a problem there was no word to describe this feeling so they combined the two words (in God) creating the word (entheos) from which we get the English word Enthusiasm. Its uses were confined to a belief in religious inspiration, or to intense religious fervour or emotion. Thus a Syrian sect of the 4th century was known as the Enthusiasts. They believed that by perpetual prayer, ascetic practices and contemplation, man could become [inspired] by the Holy Spirit, in spite of the ruling evil spirit, which the fall had given to him. From their belief in the efficacy of prayer, they were also known as Euchites. Several Protestant sects of the 16th and 17th centuries were called enthusiastic. During the years immediately following the Glorious Revolution, "enthusiasm" was a British pejorative term for advocacy of any political or religious cause in public. Such "enthusiasm" was seen in the time around 1700 as the cause of the previous century's English Civil War and its attendant atrocities, and thus it was an absolute social sin to remind others of the war by engaging in enthusiasm. The Royal Society bylaws stipulated that any person discussing religion or politics at a Society meeting was to be summarily ejected for being an "enthusiast." During the 18th century, popular Methodists such as John Wesley or George Whitefield were accused of blind enthusiasm (i.e. fanaticism).

Modern usage

In modern ordinary usage, enthusiasm has lost its religious significance, and means a whole-hearted devotion to an ideal, cause, study or pursuit. Sometimes, in a depreciatory sense, it implies a devotion which is partisan and is blind to difficulties and objections.
Science-fiction writer Thomas M. Disch once suggested that the mystical experiences of writer Philip K. Dick might be described as a form of enthousiasmos.
One might be said in modern terms to be enthusiastic if they are excited about what they might be engaged in.


Further reading

  • Ronald Knox. Enthusiasm. Oxford: The Clarendon Press
  • John Locke. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. vol. 2. New York: Dover Publications
  • Susie Tucker. Enthusiasm: A Study in Semantic Change. London: Cambridge University Press
enthusiasm in Arabic: حماس
enthusiasm in German: Enthusiasmus
enthusiasm in Ido: Entuziasmo
enthusiasm in Japanese: マニア
enthusiasm in Russian: Энтузиазм
enthusiasm in Ukrainian: Ентузіазм

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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