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From French holocauste, from Late Latin holocaustum, from the neuter form of Ancient Greek ὁλόκαυστος (holókaustos), from ὅλος (hólos, whole) + καυστός (kaustós, burnt), from καίω (kaíō, I burn). Used to refer to mass killings since at least 1925.[1]



holocaust (plural holocausts)

  1. A sacrifice that is completely burned to ashes. [from the 13th c]
    • 1526, William Tyndale, trans. Bible, Mark XII:
      And to love a mans nehbour as hymsilfe, ys a greater thynge then all holocaustes and sacrifises.
    • 1646, Sir Thomas Browne, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, III.3:
      in the holocaust or burnt-offering of Moses, the gall was cast away: for, as Ben Maimon instructeth, the inwards, whereto the gall adhereth, were taken out with the crop (according unto the law,) which the priest did not burn, but cast unto the east [...].
  2. A near or complete annihilation of a group of animals or people, whether by deliberate agency or by natural agency (especially fire). [from the 20th c]
    • 1925, Melville Chater, History's Greatest Trek, in The National Geographic Magazine:[1]
      But the initial episodes of the Exchange drama were enacted to the accompaniment of the boom of cannon and the rattle of machine guns and with the settings painted by the flames of the Smyrna holocaust [...]
    • 1938 February 6, The Palestine Post (Sunday February 6 1938), volume XIV, No. 3567, page 4, column 4 (beneath "Help for Franco?"):
      [...] the entire Press, more particulary the French press, is worried lest there be some connection between the bloodless holocaust of German Generals and Ambassadors and the persistent reports that Mussolini is about to intervene in Spain on the grand scale.
    • 1954 January 15, Mel Ferrer as King Arthur Pendragon in Knights of the Round Table:
      None will emerge the victor from this holocaust.
    a nuclear holocaust
  3. In particular, a state-sponsored mass murder of an ethnic group, especially the Holocaust (which see). [from the 20th c]

Usage notesEdit

  • Use of the word holocaust to depict Jewish suffering under the Nazis dates back to 1942, according to the OED. By the 1970s, The Holocaust was often synonymous with the Jewish exterminations. This use of the term as a synonym for the Jewish exterminations has been criticised because it appears to imply that there was a voluntary religious purpose behind the Nazi actions, which was not the case from either the Nazis' perspective or the victims'. Hence, some people prefer the term Shoah, which means destruction.
  • The word continues to be used in its other senses. For example, part of the action of a BBC radio drama by James Follett in 1981 takes place in “Holocaust City”, which by inference was named because the inhabitants were the only survivors of a global nuclear war.
  • For more information on the use of the term Holocaust, see the entry Holocaust.


Related termsEdit


See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 Colin Martin Tatz, With Intent to Destroy: Reflecting on Genocide, page 18: Possibly the first Western scholar to use 'holocaust' in a genocidal context—to refer to the Turkish genocides of Hellenic, Armenian and Assyrian populations in Asia Minor between 1914 and 1924—was Melville Chater in his 1925 article 'History's greatest trek'. He was referring specifically to the burning of Smyrna [...] in September 1922.


Alternative formsEdit


holocaust m

  1. holocaust (the state-sponsored mass murder of an ethnic group)



From Middle Dutch holocaust, from Latin holocaustum, from the neuter of Ancient Greek ὁλόκαυστος (holókaustos). The shift to masculine was influenced by Middle French holocauste. The meaning “genocide” derives from English holocaust.


  • IPA(key): /ˈɦɔ.loːˌkɑu̯st/
  • Hyphenation: ho‧lo‧caust


holocaust m (plural holocausten)

  1. holocaust, genocide
  2. (dated) holocaust (complete burnt offering)

Related termsEdit