- a unit of length equal to six feet (1.8 meters): used chiefly in nautical measurements. Abbreviation: fath
- to measure the depth of by means of a sounding line; sound.
- to penetrate to the truth of; comprehend; understand: to fathom someone's motives.
Origin of fathom
Examples from the Web for fathom
The celebrity of Li is hard to fathom in terms that American fans—tennis savvy or not—can fully comprehend.Tennis Star Li Na Says Goodbye to the Court…and Puts the Sport’s Rise in Asia in Question
September 19, 2014
As a powerful woman she presents problems for men trying to fathom her.Murdoch on the Rocks: How a Lone Reporter Revealed the Mogul's Tabloid Terror Machine
August 25, 2014
Now another monologue, also spoken by a woman who has experienced more than most can fathom, has left me entranced and devastated.This Week’s Hot Reads: April 14, 2014
April 14, 2014
Praying for you, dear brother in the One who loves both of us more than we ever could fathom.Justin Bieber's Spiritual Crisis
January 26, 2014
If the concept of W.H. and Michelle Price as a happy couple is hard to fathom, the reality is easy to understand.The Masculine Mystique
R. Tod Kelly
October 20, 2013
Sixty fathom of two-inch chain, and old Joe talks about parting.Malbone
Thomas Wentworth Higginson
But any attempt on his part to fathom it only met with cold silence.K
Mary Roberts Rinehart
"There's less than a fathom of water here, sir," sang out Johnson from the bows.Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates
The look in his eyes was both sad and savage--an expression I could not fathom.In the Valley
Miss Hernshaw didn't seek to fathom the mystery of his closing words.Questionable Shapes
William Dean Howells
- a unit of length equal to six feet (1.829 metres), used to measure depths of water
- mining a unit of volume usually equal to six cubic feet, used in measuring ore bodies
- forestry a unit of volume equal to six cubic feet, used for measuring timber
- to measure the depth of, esp with a sounding line; sound
- to penetrate (a mystery, problem, etc); discover the meaning of
Word Origin and History for fathom
Old English fæðm "length of the outstretched arm" (a measure of about six feet), also "arms, grasp," and, figuratively "power," from Proto-Germanic *fathmaz "embrace" (cf. Old Norse faðmr "embrace, bosom," Old Saxon fathmos "the outstretched arms," Dutch vadem "a measure of six feet"), from PIE *pot(e)-mo-, from root *pete- "to spread, stretch out" (see pace (n.)). There are apparent cognates in Old Frisian fethem, German faden "thread," which OED explains by reference to "spreading out."
Old English fæðmian "to embrace, surround, envelop;" see fathom (n.). The meaning "take soundings" is from c.1600; its figurative sense of "get to the bottom of, understand" is 1620s. Related: Fathomed; fathoming.