1 : 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 of 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.
"It was hard to fathom that this canyon was carved not by natural forces, but by humans. But that's the Mesabi Iron Range for you." — Simon Peter Groebner, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 15 July 2018
Test Your Vocabulary with M-W Quizzes
Test Your Vocabulary
Unscramble the letters to create an adjective that means "difficult to fathom or understand": RPDOONUF.VIEW THE ANSWER
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