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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. 2016.
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Examples from the Web for fathoming
Historical Examples
  • Less versed in things of the future, despite my gleams of reason, I resort to experiment with a view to fathoming the question.

  • My affection hampers me from fathoming Frank's inner-most thoughts.

    Old Mr. Wiley Fanny Greye La Spina
  • Her unpractised mind was completely occupied in fathoming its recent acquisition.

    A Pair of Blue Eyes Thomas Hardy
  • Earlier, fathoming his purposes, she would have raged, have burst into a passion.

    The Brentons Anna Chapin Ray
  • But there is no fathoming the reticence of an Indian—and Luck, by a sudden impulse, hid his own knowledge of the language.

  • This difference is beyond the fathoming line of human thought.

  • Human nature can rise to strange heights, and it can also fall to depths beyond your fathoming.

    Beatrice H. Rider Haggard
  • In fact he had thrown himself in his hands for the purpose of fathoming his plots.

  • Here was another shift of place, hitherto quite unsuspected, to be reckoned with by the astronomer in fathoming sidereal secrets.

  • We very often get an idea of a community by fathoming its leading men.

British Dictionary definitions for fathoming


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 fathoming



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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fathoming in the Bible

(Old A.S. faethm, "bosom," or the outstretched arms), a span of six feet (Acts 27:28). Gr. orguia (from orego, "I stretch"), the distance between the extremities of both arms fully stretched out.

Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary
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