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ca·​thar·​tic kə-ˈthär-tik How to pronounce cathartic (audio)
: of, relating to, or producing catharsis
cathartic drugs
a cathartic experience
cathartically adverb


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ca·​thar·​tic kə-ˈthär-tik How to pronounce cathartic (audio)
: a medicine that causes the bowels to be purged (see purge entry 1 sense 2a) : purgative

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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 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
In concert, Tinariwen crafts music that is foreign and familiar, hypnotic and cathartic. George Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune, 26 May 2024 Was writing about your stepfather and the abuse cathartic? Stuart Miller, Los Angeles Times, 21 May 2024
Some people find free-writing in a journal cathartic. Molly Longman,, 11 Jan. 2021 See all Example Sentences for cathartic 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'cathartic.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Adjective and Noun

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

First Known Use


1612, in the meaning defined above


1651, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of cathartic was in 1612

Dictionary Entries Near cathartic

Cite this Entry

“Cathartic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


: a strong laxative
cathartic adjective

Medical Definition


1 of 2 adjective
ca·​thar·​tic kə-ˈthärt-ik How to pronounce cathartic (audio)
: of, relating to, or producing catharsis


2 of 2 noun
: a cathartic medicine : purgative
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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