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

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. Pathetic is used to describe things that move 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, apathy, 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.
Recent Examples on the Web In the latter part of her career, Hollis Resnik imbued her famously uninhibited work with a particular pathos and a clear, ringing sympathy for the great female characters of the musical theater who come to fall on harder times. Chris Jones,, 18 Apr. 2022 Will with far more pathos and humanity than his hasty sketch of a character deserves. Leah Greenblatt,, 6 Apr. 2022 Since the movie strikes a delicate balance between pathos and humor, Bhai would constantly recalibrate to find the right tone. Stuart Miller, Variety, 13 Jan. 2022 These are ruminations on diverse subjects such as mass murder and mass statistics, the militarization of our culture, and family snapshots infused with nostalgic pathos. Washington Post, 4 Mar. 2022 That undercurrent of pathos is not present in The Books of Jacob. Jake Bittle, The New Republic, 2 Mar. 2022 There’s a touch of pathos to spending time with Cage ... but just a tinge. Glenn Whipp Entertainment Columnist, Los Angeles Times, 26 Jan. 2022 That fertile part of his early, singular career arguably peaks with Leaving Las Vegas, which adds pathos to his onscreen volatility and wins him the award that coronates him as Mr. Cage, Serious Actor. David Fear, Rolling Stone, 18 Apr. 2022 Chastain and Garfield are canny actors, but these characterizations veer between pathos and ridicule. Armond White, National Review, 1 Apr. 2022 See More

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.

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

16 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Pathos.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 May. 2022.

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