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 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 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 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb It’s hard to fathom similar concern in the U.S., where Boeing is regarded as a national champion and lawmakers are concerned about the risks posed by Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China Ltd., or Comac. Washington Post, "Boeing Max Return Has More Layers Than an Onion," 11 Nov. 2019 It’s hard to fathom where James’ was coming from on this. Al Saracevic, SFChronicle.com, "LeBron James’ comments on China an embarrassment to himself and NBA," 15 Oct. 2019 It’s hard to fathom a version of this game where Oregon struggles to score. oregonlive, "Scouting the Cardinal: 5 questions, prediction with a Stanford beat reporter," 20 Sep. 2019 It’s hard to fathom how even his base could get fired up by that. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Column: Another Trump whirlwind week on immigration and the border," 1 Sep. 2019 It’s hard to fathom how much can change in seven years given how much has changed in the last month. Ben Cohen, WSJ, "Russell Westbrook Plays for the Rockets. Why Not?," 12 July 2019 Some people can't fathom paying into a depreciating asset, while others love getting a shiny new set of wheels every three years. Lizz Schumer, Good Housekeeping, "Leasing vs. Buying a Car: How to Decide What's Right for You," 1 Aug. 2019 Most adults can’t really fathom death’s irreversibility, either. Amy Dickinson, Detroit Free Press, "Dad needs to tell young sons their mom is dead," 19 Mar. 2018 Transgender men and women were unfamiliar to many, and hard to fathom. Martin J. Smith, Los Angeles Times, "He made this town the world’s ‘sex-change capital,’ but he’s not honored here," 12 Sep. 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

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for fathom

Last Updated

15 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Fathom.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fathoming. Accessed 22 November 2019.

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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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