You can see the sanct in this, as in sanctuary and sanctify and so on, the etymon of saint. And in the noun sanctimony you can see more clearly the Latin-derived abstract noun ending mony, as in matrimony, alimony, parsimony, testimony, and so on. And of course there’s the adjectival ous. So this word would, by its origin, seem to mean ‘holy’, ‘saintly’, that sort of thing.
Which, originally, it did. But it came soon enough to shift in sense, from religion to religiosity, from holiness to hypocrisy. Now we see that the sancti is only for the money; this is the trade of the Tartuffe, the devourer of widows’ houses, perhaps the poseurs who sank Timon with IOU’s (a Shakespearean reference there). The po-faced people with hands folded, eyebrows arched, eyes cast heavenward, who are mainly concerned with making you feel inferior. And, by extension, the concerned ones. Those who pretend not, perhaps, to piety, but anyway to purity or caring, but really seem only to care about taking others down a notch. It’s a common character type in novels and movies.
Fortunately, the type is rarely encountered in so pure a form in our normal lives. Sanctimonious is for the most part not what someone is as a person, but just something someone is being at a given time. And few indeed are those among us who haven’t been at least a bit sanctimonious on occasion, condescending, acting holier-than-thou, if not for the money than to score some other kind of point. Of course, some people are more practiced at it than others.
It’s a nice word, sanctimonious, a word long enough that it can really express the exasperation one feels when one applies the label. Every one of its five syllables has its little jab. Sanc is no thanks but rather the sound of a sunk ship; ti is, unstressed, a homophone of to, making it like thanks to but not – rather more like sank to as in new lows; the mo is a moo with a condeming moue of o, asking not for mo’ but for no more; nious is not nice but rather a sound like knee us, as in in the groin, which is what those sanctimonious people are doing with their pretentious piety. Oh, no, we’re not good enough, we don’t understand, we’re just rambunctious unholy thoughtless guttersnipes.
Isn’t it nice that there are sanctimonious people, so we have someone to look down on for looking down on us?