ca·​thar·​sis | \ kə-ˈthär-səs How to pronounce catharsis (audio) \
plural catharses\ kə-​ˈthär-​ˌsēz How to pronounce catharses (audio) \

Definition of catharsis

1a : purification or purgation of the emotions (such as pity and fear) primarily through art
b : a purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension
2 : elimination of a complex by bringing it to consciousness and affording it expression
3 : purgation

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Word History of Catharsis and Cathartic

Catharsis and cathartic both trace to the Greek word kathairein, meaning “to cleanse, purge.” Catharsis entered English as a medical term having to do with purging the body—and especially the bowels—of unwanted material. The adjective cathartic entered English with a meaning descriptive of such a physically cleansing purge. It didn’t take long for people to start using these words figuratively in reference to emotional release and spiritual cleansing.

Examples of catharsis in a Sentence

She has learned to have her catharsis, take a deep breath and move on.  … she does not dwell on the negative anymore. — Selena Roberts, New York Times, 24 June 2001 … malevolence is expressed in his decision to absent himself from the courtroom, thereby denying some victims of his torture the catharsis of compelling him to hear their stories of survival. — George F. Will, Newsweek, 25 May 1987 … there's the need for catharsis. If you play it all back a second time, you may wear away some of the pain, as you wear away a record with replaying. — Anatole Broyard, New York Times Book Review, 14 Nov. 1982 As soon as we emerged from the gates of the White House, I became aware of that sea of faces.  … I wanted to cry for them and with them, but it was impossible to permit the catharsis of tears. — Lady Bird Johnson 24 Nov. 1963, in A White House Diary1970 Acting is a means of catharsis for her. Painting is a catharsis for me.
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Recent Examples on the Web

This is an experiment in escalating uneasiness absent any release or catharsis. Lindsey Bahr, Detroit Free Press, "Horror film ‘Midsommar’ casts a disorienting spell on audiences," 3 July 2019 The old-timers who saw Bobby Orr soar through the air in 1970 and, nearly five decades later, felt catharsis. Alex Prewitt,, "Gloria! Blues Turn Lost Season Into Long-Awaited Stanley Cup Title," 13 June 2019 The murals that seem to evoke the most catharsis are those with ties to the community, like Nicole and her young family. Laura Newberry, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Column One: In a tiny California town ravaged by fire, a muralist finds a calling — and notoriety," 18 June 2019 People say [dodgeball] is being used as an outlet for aggression or catharsis. The Washington Post, The Mercury News, "Dodgeball is a tool of ‘oppression’ used to ‘dehumanize’ others, researchers argue," 7 June 2019 Despite their anger and frustration, there’s also a sense of victory and catharsis. Caitlin Wolper, Teen Vogue, "Camp Cope on Supporting Other Women in Music and Calling Out Festival Lineups," 2 May 2019 If someone sees something super absurd and can share that with someone else, there’s a catharsis there. Rebecca Jennings, Vox, "YouTube is full of cringey, clickbait DIY channels. They’re even weirder than you think.," 12 Nov. 2018 Thanks to its increased attention to its characters’ inner lives, Dear White People Season 2 delivers simultaneous meditation and catharsis, at a time when both are direly needed. Laura Bradley, HWD, "How Dear White People Found Itself Sophomore Year," 6 May 2018 Although the film's ending inherently lacks triumph or catharsis, closing clips of the real-life Knight Ridder principals help provide a resonant wrap-up. Gary Goldstein,, "Journalistic zeal resonates in Rob Reiner's 'Shock and Awe'," 26 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'catharsis.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of catharsis

circa 1775, in the meaning defined at sense 3

History and Etymology for catharsis

New Latin, from Greek katharsis, from kathairein to cleanse, purge, from katharos

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Statistics for catharsis

Last Updated

7 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for catharsis

The first known use of catharsis was circa 1775

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More Definitions for catharsis



English Language Learners Definition of catharsis

formal : the act or process of releasing a strong emotion (such as pity or fear) especially by expressing it in an art form


variants: also katharsis \ kə-​ˈthär-​səs How to pronounce katharsis (audio) \
plural catharses also katharses\ -​ˌsēz How to pronounce katharses (audio) \

Medical Definition of catharsis

1 : purgation
2 : elimination of a complex by bringing it to consciousness and affording it expression — compare abreaction

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More from Merriam-Webster on catharsis

Spanish Central: Translation of catharsis

Nglish: Translation of catharsis for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of catharsis for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about catharsis

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