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fathom

[fath -uh m] /ˈfæð əm/
noun, plural fathoms (especially collectively) fathom.
1.
a unit of length equal to six feet (1.8 meters): used chiefly in nautical measurements.
Abbreviation: fath.
verb (used with object)
2.
to measure the depth of by means of a sounding line; sound.
3.
to penetrate to the truth of; comprehend; understand:
to fathom someone's motives.
Origin
900
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
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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Examples from the web for fathom
  • He could not understand the temptation that had come to him nor could he fathom the reason for its coming.
  • Some outsiders might still believe they have savvy that even insiders can't fathom.
  • Besides, he couldn't fathom collecting money for something he viewed as unfinished work that required the contribution of others.
  • Its solvency rests on a relationship with its neighbour that is impossible to fathom.
  • Skeptics are often skeptics it seems because they cannot believe in things they cannot fathom.
  • The dream of being a writer and the price one has to pay for excellence are impossible to demonstrate or, really, even to fathom.
  • At times it seems she cannot quite fathom everything that has happened.
  • He can't fathom letting go of his power, and yet he dreams about their taking over one day.
  • What she cannot fathom is how those without her talent, energy, and drive can accept what they are and make the best of it.
  • But then it must surely count as a private reference, difficult for the uninitiated to fathom.
British Dictionary definitions for fathom

fathom

/ˈfæðəm/
noun
1.
a unit of length equal to six feet (1.829 metres), used to measure depths of water
2.
(mining) a unit of volume usually equal to six cubic feet, used in measuring ore bodies
3.
(forestry) a unit of volume equal to six cubic feet, used for measuring timber
verb (transitive)
4.
to measure the depth of, esp with a sounding line; sound
5.
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 fathom
n.

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."

v.

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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fathom 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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Encyclopedia Article for fathom

old English measure of length, now standardized at 6 feet (1.83 metre), which has long been used as a nautical unit of depth. The longest of many units derived from an anatomical measurement, the fathom originated as the distance from the middle fingertip of one hand to the middle fingertip of the other hand of a large man holding his arms fully extended. The name comes from the Old English faedm or faethm, meaning outstretched arms

Learn more about fathom with a free trial on Britannica.com
Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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