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[fath -uh m] /ˈfæð əm/
noun, plural fathoms (especially collectively) fathom.
a unit of length equal to six feet (1.8 meters): used chiefly in nautical measurements.
Abbreviation: fath.
verb (used with object)
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
before 900; Middle English fathme, Old English fæthm span of outstretched arms; cognate with German Faden six-foot measure, Old Norse fathmr; akin to patent
Related forms
fathomable, adjective
fathomer, noun
unfathomable, adjective
unfathomed, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for fathomed
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • He can afford not to be fathomed for every little pearl that lies at the bottom of his ocean.

    A Dish Of Orts George MacDonald
  • He had always believed he had long since fathomed the depths of his wild friend.

  • The point I have not fathomed is the means by which the ‘goods’ are brought into the country.

    The Hound From The North Ridgwell Cullum
  • By this time I had fathomed all the depths of Madame d'Urfe's character.

    The Memoires of Casanova, Complete Jacques Casanova de Seingalt
  • He had fathomed the true state of affairs between Archie and Hope.

    Teddy: Her Book Anna Chapin Ray
  • Lady Augusta declared that no woman yet ever fathomed the heart of man.

    Robert Orange John Oliver Hobbes
  • He saw that his suspicions had been fathomed, and this injured his opinion of his own diplomacy.

    Fraternity John Galsworthy
  • I was so nervous and restless that Kate fathomed my painful anxiety.

    Seek and Find Oliver Optic
  • Everything that could not be fathomed was attributed to witchcraft.

    Paul and the Printing Press Sara Ware Bassett
British Dictionary definitions for fathomed


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
verb (transitive)
to measure the depth of, esp with a sounding line; sound
to penetrate (a mystery, problem, etc); discover the meaning of
Derived Forms
fathomable, adjective
fathomer, noun
Word Origin
Old English fæthm; related to Old Frisian fethem outstretched arms, Old Norse fathmr embrace, Old High German fadum cubit, Latin patēre to gape
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for fathomed



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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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