ca·​thar·​sis | \ kə-ˈthär-səs How to pronounce catharsis (audio) \
plural catharses\ kə-​ˈthär-​ˌsēz How to pronounce catharsis (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 By the next morning, 20 people had offered their condolences, along with extra tiles, plastic gems and chipped plates to smash — crafting with a side of catharsis. Erica Wacker, Star Tribune, 28 May 2021 The actress’s powerful presence steels a key moment of catharsis in which Eithne lets her anger rip. Washington Post, 27 May 2021 There are no bows, no emotional catharsis, no sense, really, that anyone else saw what was seen by you and your in your moving bubble. Chris Jones,, 27 Apr. 2021 The catharsis of tragedy, the cleansing of the human mind, can feel a little like a Finnish sauna, painful and good at the same time. Time, 17 Apr. 2021 With its blend of monsters and magic, the show promised viewers fantastical catharsis, if not outright escapism. Hannah Giorgis, The Atlantic, 17 Apr. 2021 Just after this moment of catharsis, one of the theatre’s side doors opens. Vinson Cunningham, The New Yorker, 12 Apr. 2021 The team was tight, cohered by catharsis, and an invisible boundary separated those who had hoisted the chalice from those who hadn’t. New York Times, 4 May 2021 When the ball found the bottom of the net, DeRozan unleashed a primal scream of pure catharsis. Jeff Mcdonald, San Antonio Express-News, 12 Apr. 2021

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

1 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Catharsis.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Jun. 2021.

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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 catharsis (audio) \
plural catharses also katharses\ -​ˌsēz How to pronounce catharsis (audio) \

Medical Definition of catharsis

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

More from Merriam-Webster on catharsis

Nglish: Translation of catharsis for Spanish Speakers

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


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