pathos

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

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 her mother watching from the crowd, Gaga accepted her award with a mix of humor and pathos that had the entirety of Cipriani tearing up. Keaton Bell, Vogue, "A Star Was Born When Lady Gaga Won Big at Last Night’s National Board of Review Awards," 9 Jan. 2019 With citizens acting as their own press secretaries, some take the approach of presenting enviable perfection and others of pouring out intimate pathos. Judith Martin, WSJ, "‘Betty Ford’ Review: A Number-One First Lady," 12 Sep. 2018 Steve Coogan, as a flamboyant TV star, and Paul Rudd, as the straight man (so to speak), have great fun playing a bickering couple in the movie, which has a little pathos — and a lot of camp. 6:30 p.m. June 23, Castro. David Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle, "Frameline offers movie feast during Pride Week," 14 June 2018 The Fringe Factor: Mesrobian carefully lays the groundwork for a plot twist that infiltrates the show in its third act, but the laugh supply falls dangerously low as pathos takes over. Matthew J. Palm, OrlandoSentinel.com, "Review: Callbacks - Fringe 2018," 14 May 2018 There are few villains on the show; even Squidward, SpongeBob’s perpetually grouchy neighbor, is allowed his fair share of pathos. James Freeman, WSJ, "‘Relentless Optimism and Fundamental Sweetness’," 27 Nov. 2018 By stirring us so powerfully, birds bring us up against the ineffable in a telling, pathos-laden way. Ben Downing, WSJ, "‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire’ Review: Flights of Fancy," 16 Nov. 2018 This touching tale of animals and humans interwoven in the cycle of life needs a delicate balance of comedy and pathos, and the Glimmerglass Orchestra, led by Joseph Colaneri, was brash and occasionally scrappy. Heidi Waleson, WSJ, "The Glimmerglass Festival and ‘A Quiet Place’ Reviews," 13 Aug. 2018 Based on the three episodes Showtime made available, that wasn’t enough to approximate the texture of Mr. St. Aubyn’s work — the way pathos, for better or worse, peeks through the cracks of his comic-splenetic detachment. New York Times, "Review: ‘Patrick Melrose’ Is Flat Despite a Peerless Benedict Cumberbatch," 10 May 2018

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, noun derivative of a verbal base path- "experience, undergo, suffer" (present páschō, páschein), 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

25 Mar 2019

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Time Traveler for pathos

The first known use of pathos was in 1591

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More Definitions for pathos

pathos

noun

English Language Learners Definition of pathos

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on pathos

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with pathos

Spanish Central: Translation of pathos

Nglish: Translation of pathos for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of pathos for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about pathos

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