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 numberfive 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

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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 But in today’s world of restrictions on size, quantity and season, releasing reef fish has become part of our new reality—as are the challenges of ensuring postrelease survival for an animal pulled up from 20 fathoms. Popular Science, "Releasing a caught fish isn’t as simple as tossing it overboard," 11 Feb. 2020 That impulse, growing out of one pivotal song, eventually pointed the way to the fathoms of Ocean, the group’s new album, their seventh, which debuts Friday. Nancy Kruh, PEOPLE.com, "After Overcoming a 'Band Mid-Life Crisis,' Lady Antebellum Plumbs the Depths in Ocean," 15 Nov. 2019 The lines were marked at two, three, five, seven, 10, 13, 15, 17 and 20 fathoms. Richard Lederer, San Diego Union-Tribune, "The English language always has your number," 19 Oct. 2019 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 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Why, exactly, the Fed feels it necessary to inject more dollars into the corporate credit market is hard to fathom. Steven Pearlstein, Washington Post, "The Fed is addicted to propping up the markets, even without a need," 17 June 2020 The officer’s lawyer, Ludovic de Villèle, can’t fathom why France would replace an immobilization technique with a weapon. Arno Pedram And Lori Hinnant, The Christian Science Monitor, "Chokeholds or Tasers? Critics question France's compromise.," 16 June 2020 The officer’s lawyer, Ludovic de Villèle, can’t fathom why France would replace an immobilization technique with a weapon. BostonGlobe.com, "US Embassy in Seoul removes Black Lives Matter banner, two days after it was unfurled," 15 June 2020 And try to fathom this stipulation: If the No. 9 seed winds up more than four games behind, the No. 8 seed will make the playoffs. Bruce Jenkins, SFChronicle.com, "Nice job, NBA, but there’s a world of doubt," 4 June 2020 But after four straight days of marches, the thought that a teenager could leading more than 1,000 protesters through the streets of the city was something the crowd could not fathom. Branden Hunter, Detroit Free Press, "16-year-old emerges as a leader at Detroit's Monday protest: 'I felt I made a mark'," 2 June 2020 Can't even fathom what the black community has to endure on a daily basis. Eric Branch, SFChronicle.com, "49ers’ Sherman: Saints’ QB Drew Brees ‘beyond lost’ after comments on kneeling," 3 June 2020 And many simply cannot fathom leaving sick relatives alone. Ellen Barry, New York Times, "In a Crowded City, Leaders Struggle to Separate the Sick From the Well," 25 Apr. 2020 His last baseball season ending this way, it's been hard to fathom. Richard Obert, azcentral, "Saluting Seniors: Basha's Kolby Feyen earned pilot's license before final baseball season grounded," 2 May 2020

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

Time Traveler

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

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Cite this Entry

“Fathom.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fathom. Accessed 4 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for fathom

fathom

noun
How to pronounce fathom (audio)

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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