Word of the Day : May 5, 2013


verb FA-thum


1 : to measure by a sounding line

2 : probe

3 : to penetrate and come to understand

Did You Know?

Today's word 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).


Even those close to him couldn't always fathom why he repeatedly risked his life to climb the world's tallest mountains.

"Just what's in the mind of the North Koreans is hard for outsiders to fathom." - From an article by Wesley Pruden in The Washington Times, April 2, 2013

Test Your Memory

What is the meaning of "gest," our Word of the Day from April 6? The answer is …


More Words of the Day

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!