ca·​thar·​sis | \kə-ˈthär-səs \
plural catharses\-​ˌsēz \

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

Whatever catharsis came from writing this book did not purge Starr of his disdain for the Clintons. Dan Zak, The Seattle Times, "The Starr Report got a president impeached 20 years ago, and Ken Starr wants to remind you why," 11 Sep. 2018 All of us Mary Pages have talked about the lack of catharsis in the play. Barbara Chai, WSJ, "Tatiana Maslany Contains Multitudes," 11 July 2018 Plenty of bands try to outgrow pop-punk; few manage to replace its kinetic catharsis. Chris Payne, Billboard, "5 Seconds of Summer Want You Back: 'Our Purpose Is Very Different Than Other Bands'," 23 June 2018 She’s been gaslighted into passivity not only by a sexist culture but also and more immediately by her first husband, who is such a jerk that his fatal exit from the book is an intensely satisfying catharsis. Laura Collins-hughes,, "Waking up is hard to do," 13 July 2018 The triumph over New Zealand triggered a national catharsis. Simeon Tegel, Washington Post, "Peru’s long-awaited World Cup party hits frenzy with return of Paolo Guerrero," 15 June 2018 No doubt, catharsis is simple with loud guitars and fast tempos, and to provide the same service with more nuanced introspection is a tougher trick. Joshua Klein,, "Paramore delivered hits and catharsis at Northerly Island," 3 July 2018 The song’s softly triumphant climax is the only real emotional catharsis, and it is beautifully understated. Dylan Scott, Vox, "The unexpected resonance of Zooropa, U2’s least-remembered album, 25 years later," 5 July 2018 Striking a nerve Several artists playing Summerfest this year will perform new personal songs that strike a nerve, or offer catharsis, in our sociopolitical climate. Piet Levy, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "In the Trump era, the sounds at Summerfest are becoming more political," 27 June 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

24 Nov 2018

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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

: 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 \
plural catharses also katharses\-​ˌsēz \

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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