ca·​thar·​tic | \ kə-ˈthär-tik How to pronounce cathartic (audio) \

Definition of cathartic

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: of, relating to, or producing catharsis cathartic drugs a cathartic experience


ca·​thar·​tic | \ kə-ˈthär-tik How to pronounce cathartic (audio) \

Definition of cathartic (Entry 2 of 2)

: a medicine that causes the bowels to be purged (see purge entry 1 sense 2a) : purgative

Other Words from cathartic


cathartically \ kə-​ˈthär-​ti-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce cathartic (audio) \ adverb

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 cathartic in a Sentence

Adjective There's something cathartic about a punch in the nose. — Michael Farber, Sports Illustrated, 28 Jan. 2002 But Vietnam is hard to sell as a tidy, cathartic morality tale of troubled times overcome. — Jennifer Homans, New Republic, 2 & 9 Dec. 2002 Many veterans, at first reluctant to speak, ultimately uncorked their emotions in a cathartic explosion. — Stanley Karnow, New York Times Book Review, 22 Nov. 1992 It provokes no healthy tears, whereas Cervantes never fails … to open the cathartic floodgates. — Anthony Burgess, Homage to Qwert Yuiop: Selected Journalism 1978-1985, 1986
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective The family got the cathartic benefits of swearing while limiting its social downsides. Arthur C. Brooks, The Atlantic, 9 June 2022 In these films, when there are romantic obstacles, the characters aren't guaranteed to surmount them — and the cathartic cry at the end is an essential part of the whole experience. Marisa Lascala, Good Housekeeping, 6 June 2022 Jennifer Aniston found a cathartic way to deal with her divorce from Brad Pitt. Emily Tannenbaum, Glamour, 28 May 2022 The singer is definitely skilled at making intoxicating, cathartic songs that wrestle with longing and crushing disappointment. Ilana Kaplan, Rolling Stone, 26 May 2022 So that was a really beautiful and cathartic moment to just help somebody transition. Jackie Strause, The Hollywood Reporter, 25 May 2022 One of the immeasurable number of things COVID-19 took from us — the cathartic, communal joy of a sweaty punk show — was definitely missed. Piet Levy, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 13 May 2022 The reunions with other cast members can be joyous — and sometimes a bit challenging and cathartic. Emily Yahr, Washington Post, 13 May 2022 The darkness is deeper and sometimes more despairing this year, but the jokes are just as frequent, and maybe even a bit more cathartic. Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY, 11 May 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Some people find free-writing in a journal cathartic. Molly Longman,, 11 Jan. 2021 See More

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

First Known Use of cathartic


1612, in the meaning defined above


1651, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for cathartic

Adjective and Noun

Late Latin or Greek; Late Latin catharticus, from Greek kathartikos, from kathairein — see catharsis

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Time Traveler for cathartic

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The first known use of cathartic was in 1612

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Last Updated

14 Jun 2022

Cite this Entry

“Cathartic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Jun. 2022.

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More Definitions for cathartic


ca·​thar·​tic | \ kə-ˈthärt-ik How to pronounce cathartic (audio) \

Medical Definition of cathartic

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: of, relating to, or producing catharsis



Medical Definition of cathartic (Entry 2 of 2)

: a cathartic medicine : purgative


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