ne·​pen·​the nə-ˈpen(t)-thē How to pronounce nepenthe (audio)
: a potion used by the ancients to induce forgetfulness of pain or sorrow
: something capable of causing oblivion of grief or suffering
nepenthean adjective

Did you know?

Nepenthe and its ancestors have long been popular with poets. Homer used the Greek grandparent of "nepenthe" in a way many believe is a reference to opium. The term was a tonic to Edmund Spenser, who wrote, "In her other hand a cup she hild, The which was this Nepenthe to the brim upfild." Edgar Allan Poe sought to "Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore." The term is an alteration of the Latin nepenthes, which is itself descended from the Greek prefix n -, meaning "not," plus penthos, meaning "grief" or "sorrow." English writers have been plying the word nepenthe since the 16th century.

Word History


borrowed from Latin nēpenthes, borrowed from Greek nēpenthés, neuter (modifying phármakon "drug") of nēpenthḗs "removing grief," from nē-, privative prefix (probably going back to Indo-European *n-, privative prefix, and a sequence of laryngeal and consonant) + -penthēs, adjective derivative of pénthos "sorrow, grief" — more at un- entry 1, pathos

First Known Use

1577, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of nepenthe was in 1577


Dictionary Entries Near nepenthe

Cite this Entry

“Nepenthe.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


ne·​pen·​the nə-ˈpen(t)-thē How to pronounce nepenthe (audio)
: a potion used by the ancient peoples to dull pain and sorrow

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