fathom

noun
fath·​om | \ ˈfa-t͟həm How to pronounce fathom (audio) \

Definition of fathom

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a unit of length equal to six feet (1.83 meters) used especially for measuring the depth of water sometimes used in the singular when qualified by a number five fathom deep
2 : comprehension the themes display a newer fathom than the technical modernism of the composer's earlier worksNewsweek

fathom

verb
fathomed; fathoming; fathoms

Definition of fathom (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

1 : probe
2 : to take soundings

transitive verb

1 : to measure by a sounding line
2 : to penetrate and come to understand couldn't fathom the problem

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Other Words from fathom

Verb

fathomable \ ˈfa-​t͟hə-​mə-​bəl How to pronounce fathomable (audio) \ adjective

Synonyms for fathom

Synonyms: Verb

plumb, sound

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Did fathom Always Refer to a Measurement?

Verb

Fathom comes to us from Old English fæthm, meaning "outstretched arms." The noun fathom, which now commonly refers to a measure (especially of depth) of six feet, was originally used for the distance, fingertip to fingertip, created by stretching one's arms straight out from the sides of the body. In one of its earliest uses, the verb fathom meant to encircle something with the arms as if for measuring and was also a synonym for "embrace." In the 1600s, however, fathom took on the meaning of using a sounding line to measure depth. At the same time, the verb also developed senses synonymous with "probe" or "investigate," and is now frequently used to refer to the act of getting to the bottom of something (figuratively speaking).

Examples of fathom in a Sentence

Noun

The water here is five fathoms deep.

Verb

the pilot had to continually fathom the river, which drought conditions had lowered to unprecedented levels

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The submarine is recorded in 1,805 fathoms of water, or 8,310 feet, and makes a test dive. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, "Come Take a Tour of America's Newest Nuclear Submarine," 7 Jan. 2019 Leadbetter Point to Cape Falcon - Nearshore (inside 40 fathoms) opens May 7; Mondays to Wednesdays until 500 pounds are caught or Sept. 30. Bill Monroe, OregonLive.com, "Summer ocean fishing, fall hunting seasons set for Oregon," 20 Apr. 2018 Get ready to be terrified by the mysterious fathoms below! Laura Beck, Cosmopolitan, "The Trailer for 'Siren,' a Terrifying (and Kinda Sexy?!) New Show About Mermaids Is Freaky-as-Hell," 27 Jan. 2018 More than 200 years later, our low tide was at the same time Cook's high had been, and 4 fathoms — 24 feet — was an understatement. Erin Mckittrick, Alaska Dispatch News, "Meandering the mudflats: 800 miles around Cook Inlet," 15 Sep. 2017 Captain Cook filled his logs with notes on the tide, on the time the ebb began each day, the force of the current, the fathoms of water, or lack of water, beneath his ship. Erin Mckittrick, Alaska Dispatch News, "Meandering the mudflats: 800 miles around Cook Inlet," 15 Sep. 2017 Twain's pen name originates from his time working with steamboats: Twain refers to a measure of length known as two fathoms (12 feet). Logan Sykes, Town & Country, "Happy 180th Birthday, Mark Twain! 16 Facts You Need to Know About The Author," 30 Nov. 2015 However, the modern dive watch dates back to the mid-1950s, when Blancpain's 50 Fathoms and Rolex's Submariner both appeared. Steve Dool, CNN, "Understated but 'never easy': Why collectors covet Patek Philippe," 18 July 2017 Time traveling below the waves Dropping 10 fathoms down, below the green waves of the Gulf and back in time to this prehistoric world amounts to a sort of time traveler's journey. Ben Raines, NOLA.com, "Gulf's 60,000-year-old underwater forest spills its secrets in new documentary," 25 June 2017

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

It’s hard to fathom that a $430 million contract extension would make sense for any player. Peter Abraham, BostonGlobe.com, "Baseball’s award winners at midway point of season," 29 June 2019 It’s hard to fathom how much business was lost to inadequate e-commerce these last few years. Phil Wahba, Fortune, "Michaels Offers Fresh Lessons in Perils of Being a Tech Laggard," 6 June 2019 An individual army ant is practically blind and has a minuscule brain that couldn’t begin to fathom their elaborate collective movement. Quanta Magazine, "The Simple Algorithm That Ants Use to Build Bridges," 26 Feb. 2018 But back in the early 1950s, that was an alien concept, and one that English football struggled to fathom. SI.com, "Vic Buckingham: How an Englishman Discovered Johan Cruyff & Pioneered Total Football," 11 June 2019 The signals for flooding were seen days in advance, yet the ferocity of the rainfall was still hard to fathom. The Washington Post, The Mercury News, "US just topped 125-year-old, 12-month rainfall total," 10 June 2019 By nearly any metric, the size of the Amazon is difficult to fathom. Austin Merrill, WSJ, "The Amazon: The Heart of the World," 3 Dec. 2018 After giving birth to her second child in 2016, Shiya Fursteneau, a 39-year-old yoga instructor and stay-at-home mom, couldn’t fathom going to an exercise class. Leah Groth, Glamour, "Peloton’s Online Community Is Changing the Fitness Game for Moms," 9 Apr. 2019 How many of us can fathom going on a vacation or glamorous work trip without posting about it? Emily Farra, Vogue, "Will 2019 Be the Year We All Start Renting Out Our Own Closets?," 18 Mar. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'fathom.' 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 fathom

Noun

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb

1607, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1

History and Etymology for fathom

Noun and Verb

Middle English fadme, from Old English fæthm outstretched arms, length of the outstretched arms; akin to Old Norse fathmr fathom, Latin patēre to be open, pandere to spread out, Greek petannynai

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Time Traveler for fathom

The first known use of fathom was before the 12th century

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More Definitions for fathom

fathom

noun

English Language Learners Definition of fathom

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a unit of length equal to six feet (about 1.8 meters) used especially for measuring the depth of water

fathom

verb

English Language Learners Definition of fathom (Entry 2 of 2)

: to understand the reason for (something)

fathom

noun
fath·​om | \ ˈfa-t͟həm How to pronounce fathom (audio) \

Kids Definition of fathom

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a unit of length equal to six feet (about 1.8 meters) used chiefly in measuring the depth of water

fathom

verb
fathomed; fathoming

Kids Definition of fathom (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to understand the reason for something I couldn't fathom how he escaped punishment.
2 : to measure the depth of water by means of a special line

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