pa·​thos | \ ˈpā-ˌthäs How to pronounce pathos (audio) , -ˌthȯs, -ˌthōs How to pronounce pathos (audio) also ˈpa- \

Definition of pathos

1 : an element in experience or in artistic representation evoking pity or compassion
2 : an emotion of sympathetic pity

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Pathos Entered English in the 1500s

The Greek word pathos means "suffering," "experience," or "emotion." It was borrowed into English in the 16th century, and for English speakers, the term usually refers to the emotions produced by tragedy or a depiction of tragedy. "Pathos" has quite a few kin in English. A "pathetic" sight moves us to pity. "Empathy" is the ability to feel the emotions of another. Though "pathology" is not literally "the study of suffering," it is "the study of diseases." You can probably guess at more relatives of "pathos." "Sympathy," "apathetic," "antipathy," "sociopath," and "psychopath" are a few.

Examples of pathos in a Sentence

There is a pathos to the deflated certainties that left the Washington lawyer Leonard Garment weeping, inconsolable, outside the Senate chamber as the debate was ended. — Garry Wills, New York Times Book Review, 10 Sept. 1989 Many schools at the end of the Depression were poor, but the threadbare nature of Christchurch was almost Dickensian in its pathos. — William Styron, This Quiet Dust and Other Writings, (1953) 1982 The struggle back to solvency was arduous, and the stubborn determination and reserves of strength that it called forth from him in his mid-forties made him all at once a figure of considerable pathos and heroism in my eyes, a cross of a kind between Captain Ahab and Willy Loman. — Philip Roth, Reading Myself and Others, (1961) 1975 Our knowledge of his tragic end adds an element of pathos to the story of his early success.
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Recent Examples on the Web With a boldness and daring that would be rare for the most experienced of actors, Day brings painful new dimension and pathos to the life of Holiday, a woman who was beaten up and down — figuratively and literally — for much of her life. George Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Golden Globe-nominee Andra Day on her star turn as Billie Holiday in new Lee Daniels film: ‘I was terrified!’," 21 Feb. 2021 The second reason is Marielle Heller’s sensational film for Amazon Prime that preserves Schreck’s magnificent Broadway performance in all its pathos, vigor and moral conviction. Charles Mcnulty Theater Critic, Los Angeles Times, "Best theater in 2020: In a year to forget, virtuoso performances to remember," 8 Dec. 2020 As Fern traverses the infrastructure of itinerant America, the cast of actors and non-actors combine sentimentality and realism, pioneer conviction and political pathos. Armond White, National Review, "Nomadland Transforms America into Alienation Nation," 15 Jan. 2021 Yet there’s only so much Mulligan can do here, and the movie’s early focus on cleansing revenge ultimately takes a backseat to dime-store psychology and utilitarian pathos. Stephanie Zacharek, Time, "Promising Young Woman," 15 Jan. 2021 The beauty and pathos derived from the surrender belong to a higher order of experience. Sam Sacks, WSJ, "Fiction: Moral Hazzard," 4 Dec. 2020 Much came through screens, of course, but joy, ingenuity and pathos arrived in other packages, too — igniting new forms and minting new stars along the way. New York Times, "Best Theater of 2020," 1 Dec. 2020 Olsen seems up to the task, and Kathryn Hahn, Paul Bettany and Randall Park are also there to provide extra comedy and pathos. New York Times, "11 Things Our Critics Are Looking Forward to in 2021," 31 Dec. 2020 However, the voice performances are excellent, especially Cage, who brings his signature sense of yearning pathos to Grug the Neanderthal. Tribune News Service, cleveland, "Excellent voice performances, smart jokes and eye-popping animation power ‘Croods: A New Age’ (review)," 25 Nov. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'pathos.' 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 pathos

1591, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for pathos

borrowed from Greek páthos "experience, misfortune, emotion, condition," noun derivative of a verbal base path- "experience, undergo, suffer" (present páschō, páschein, aorist épathon), going back to *p(h)nth-, zero ablaut grade of a base seen also in pénthos "grief, sorrow," of uncertain origin

Note: The Greek verb has been compared with Lithuanian kentù, kę͂sti "to undergo, suffer" (assuming that t for d is secondary) and Old Irish césaid "(s/he) suffers, endures" (< *kwendh-s-?), though this would require Indo-European *kwendh-, with a normally unacceptable combination of voiceless stop and voiced aspirated stop in a single root. Alternatively, Greek path-, penth- has been explained as an idiosyncratic semantic development of Indo-European *bhendh- "bind" ("be bound" > "suffer"?) (see bind entry 1).

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Last Updated

5 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Pathos.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Mar. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of pathos

literary : a quality that causes people to feel sympathy and sadness

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