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

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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 Come get your creepy art catharsis on ... just keep your distance. J.d. Crowe |, al, "Coronavirus art breaks out in Alabama ‘artist colony’," 26 Apr. 2020 The finale, with timpanists Jauvon Gilliam and Scott Christian volleying thunder from opposite sides of the stage, led to less a unified resolution than a heterogeneous catharsis. Washington Post, "National Symphony Orchestra considers the one and the many in program of Grieg, Dvorak and Nielsen," 7 Feb. 2020 Ritual catharsis demands the physical—bodies, tears, proximity. Sarah Ruhl, The Atlantic, "Can We Mourn Properly Over Zoom?," 23 Apr. 2020 This majestic song takes a listener from pragmatism to catharsis to transcendence. Armond White, National Review, "The Stones’ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ — Redefined," 22 Apr. 2020 Making art has always come naturally to me and been a source of pleasure as well as a means of self-expression and catharsis. Chantal Claret, New York Times, "How Pregnancy Zapped My Creative Drive," 15 Apr. 2020 Until coronavirus is under control, late night can offer us neither perspective nor catharsis. Judy Berman, Time, "Why Losing Late-Night Talk Shows to Coronavirus Feels Especially Bleak," 16 Mar. 2020 Constant coverage of the coronavirus may kick up the anxiety and stress levels, but TV also can be source of refuge, cheer, perspective and catharsis. Mark Dawidziak, cleveland, "TV can be a source of escape and comfort in coming weeks," 16 Mar. 2020 The scene where he gets drafted is an indelible image of that film, with Boseman delivering a mix of shock, relief, catharsis and pure happiness in one speechless moment. Brian Truitt, USA TODAY, "Chadwick Boseman always finds a way to be super, even in the rather ordinary '21 Bridges'," 22 Nov. 2019

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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Time Traveler for catharsis

Time Traveler

The first known use of catharsis was circa 1775

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Statistics for catharsis

Last Updated

25 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Catharsis.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for catharsis


How to pronounce catharsis (audio)

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

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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