fathom

noun
fath·om | \ˈfa-t͟həm \

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 \ 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

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 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. AL.com, "Alabama's 60,000-year-old underwater forest spills its secrets in new documentary," 25 June 2017

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

What would be a story beyond fathoming for the second-grade class Lieberg will teach Monday back home in Helena, Mont., became something nevertheless inspiring. Lance Pugmire, latimes.com, "L.A. Marathon: Montana teacher enjoys hanging with top runners — and finishing among top Americans," 18 Mar. 2018 Yellowstone’’ — whose June 20 premiere earned a stellar 4.8 million viewers, counting DVR, in its first three days — to reflect a culture and a mind-set that city dwellers have trouble fathoming. Scott Tobias, BostonGlobe.com, "How TV has brought the western into the 21st century," 5 July 2018 There’s awkward new girl #46 (Neiry Rojo), who has a way of creepily sidling up behind someone that Peter Lorre would envy but whose background turns out to be far more cosmopolitan than her more provincial teammates can fathom. Lily Janiak, San Francisco Chronicle, "Marin Theatre Company’s ‘The Wolves,’ about a girls’ soccer team, a shut-out win," 21 Mar. 2018 But no joining of forces is more difficult to fathom than the partnership between two writers. Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, "Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s Concussive Collaboration," 3 June 2018 Since winning the World Cup as host in 1966, England has – and this is hard to fathom – not reached the semis of any major competition. Mark Faller, azcentral, "Live World Cup updates: Mexico vs. Brazil," 2 July 2018 But there was something the Padres manager could not fathom. Kevin Acee, sandiegouniontribune.com, "Padres have themselves, umpire to blame for loss to Braves," 14 June 2018 In 1986, Jack Nicklaus made the Sunday turn at -3 and there was no way to fathom he’d shoot a 30 on the back nine and end up wearing the green jacket three hours later. Chris Chase, For The Win, "Will Tiger Woods make this the best Masters ever?," 3 Apr. 2018 Higher barriers to trade will add to inflation and hurt GDP, but to an extent that is hard to fathom. The Economist, "Even stockmarket bulls are more cautious than at the start of the year," 12 July 2018

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

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

Verb

see fathom entry 1

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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 \

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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