Origin of the word
The word odious first appeared in Middle English sometime in the late 14th century. It comes from the Old French word ‘odieus’, which was borrowed from the Latin adjective ‘odiosus’, meaning ‘hateful, offensive or unpleasant’. This adjective is derived from the Latin noun ‘odium’, meaning ‘hatred’. However, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 17th century that the word ‘odium’ itself became part of the English language in its unchanged form, when it was used as a noun meaning ‘disgrace’ or ‘hatred’.
Odious refers to things that are extremely distasteful, disgusting, or deserving of revulsion. It’s an adjective that can describe words (‘an odious lie’), situations (‘an odious tyranny’), or even people (‘an odious character’). Odious is a particularly powerful term, conveying more than simple annoyance or unpleasantness. It conveys a sense of extreme aversion or intense displeasure.
One example of an odious character can be found in the newly released film Murder on the Orient Express (2017), the most recent adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery novel. The story involves a diverse cast of characters who are all suspects in a brutal crime that occurs aboard a luxury train travelling between Istanbul and Paris in the 1930s. In the film, American actor Johnny Depp plays Mr Ratchett, a wealthy antiques dealer who also happens to be a kidnapper and a murderer. Ratchett is often depicted as odious — the other characters call him ‘evil’ and ‘a monster’ over and over again once his horrific, unspeakable crime has been revealed.
Charles Dickens was particularly adept at creating despicable, odious eccentrics. His books are filled with dark, dangerous figures like Fagin in Oliver Twist, Uriah Heep and Mr Murdstone in David Copperfield, Daniel Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop, and even Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, until he is reformed.
In fact, literature is full of odious characters: Mr Hyde of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Lewis Stevenson, Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello, Gollum from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and, more recently, Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
1. very unpleasant
View the full definition at the Macmillan Dictionary.