1

fathom

play
noun fath·om \ ˈfa-t͟həm \

Definition of fathom

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 works
  • Newsweek

fathom was our Word of the Day on 05/05/2013. Hear the podcast!

Examples of fathom in a Sentence

  1. The water here is five fathoms deep.

Recent Examples of fathom from the Web

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.

Origin and Etymology of fathom

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

Other Nautical Terms


2

fathom

verb

Definition of fathom

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

fathomable

play \ˈfa-t͟hə-mə-bəl\ adjective

Examples of fathom in a Sentence

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

Recent Examples of fathom from the Web

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.

Did fathom Always Refer to a Measurement?

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).

Origin and Etymology of fathom

fathom Synonyms

Synonyms
2sound, plumb
Related Words
gauge (also gage), scale, span; remeasure, replumb

FATHOM Defined for English Language Learners

fathom

play
noun

Definition of fathom for English Language Learners

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


fathom

verb

Definition of fathom for English Language Learners

  • : to understand the reason for (something)


FATHOM Defined for Kids

1

fathom

play
noun fath·om \ ˈfa-t͟həm \

Definition of fathom for Students

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

2

fathom

verb

Definition of fathom for Students

fathomed; fathoming
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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