noun, plural hea·thens, hea·then.
- (in historical contexts) an individual of a people that do not acknowledge the God of the Bible; a person who is neither a Jew, Christian, nor Muslim; a pagan.
- Informal. an irreligious, uncultured, or uncivilized person.
- of or relating to heathens; pagan.
- Informal. irreligious, uncultured, or uncivilized.
noun plural -thens or -then
- a person who does not acknowledge the God of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam; pagan
- an uncivilized or barbaric person
- the heathen (functioning as plural) heathens collectively
- irreligious; pagan
- unenlightened; uncivilized; barbaric
- of or relating to heathen peoples or their religious, moral, and other customs, practices, and beliefs
Old English hæðen “not Christian or Jewish,” also as a noun, “heathen man” (especially of the Danes), merged with Old Norse heiðinn (adj.) “heathen, pagan.”
Perhaps literally “pertaining to one inhabiting uncultivated land,” from heath + -en (2). But historically assumed to be from Gothic haiþno “gentile, heathen woman,” used by Ulfilas in the first translation of the Bible into a Germanic language (cf. Mark vii:26, for “Greek”); if so it could be a derivative of Gothic haiþi “dwelling on the heath,” but this sense is not recorded. It may have been chosen on model of Latin paganus, with its root sense of “rural” (see pagan), or for resemblance to Greek ethne (see gentile), or it may be a literal borrowing of that Greek word, perhaps via Armenian hethanos [Sophus Bugge]. Like other basic words for exclusively Christian ideas (e.g. church) it likely would have come first into Gothic and then spread to other Germanic languages.