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The expression holier-than-thou is rooted in the Bible, though the phrase was not in general usage until the 1880s. We will examine the meaning of the term holier-than-thou, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Holier-than-thou describes someone who behaves as if he is morally superior, though in fact, he is not. A holier-than-thou person is considered sanctimonious, self-righteous and not of any higher moral qualities than anyone else. Holier-than-thou is a phrase that was coined in America during the 1880s, from a passage from the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament of the Bible. In the passage, God denounces those who are practicing pagan rituals as if the pagan gods are holier than God: “Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou.” Note that the term is properly rendered with hyphens, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, though it is sometimes seen without hyphens.


Even when you do want more, the levers aren’t always there to pull, or you end up facing holier-than-thou people. (The Jackson Free Press)

In my life, I’ve sinned, screwed up, antagonized and annoyed many, so I’m in no position to claim to be holier-than-thou. (The Colombian)

Finally, after your leaders’ full-throated support for someone accused of sexually assaulting teen girls, I don’t ever want to hear again your holier-than-thou preaching about “family values.” (The Omaha World-Herald)

Many also questioned why Malaysian K-pop fans are mourning Jonghyun’s death but do not care about Palestinians, Syrians, Rohingyas and other atrocities that are committed against humanity, as well as comments that come off as holier-than-thou where they remind Muslim fans to repent and remember God. (The Malaysian Digest)