Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A unit of length equal to 6 feet (1.83 meters), used principally in the measurement and specification of marine depths.
  • transitive verb To penetrate to the meaning or nature of; comprehend.
  • transitive verb To determine the depth of; sound.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun Originally, the space to which a man may extend his arms; specifically, a measure of length containing 6 feet: used chiefly in nautical and mining measurements.
  • noun Hence Mental reach or scope; penetration; the extent of capacity; depth of thought or contrivance.
  • To encompass with the arms extended or encircling.
  • To reach in depth by measurement in fathoms; sound; try the depth of; penetrate to or find the bottom or extent of.
  • Hence To penetrate with the mind; comprehend.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • transitive verb obsolete To encompass with the arms extended or encircling; to measure by throwing the arms about; to span.
  • transitive verb To measure by a sounding line; especially, to sound the depth of; to penetrate, measure, and comprehend; to get to the bottom of.
  • noun A measure of length, containing six feet; the space to which a man can extend his arms; -- used chiefly in measuring cables, cordage, and the depth of navigable water by soundings.
  • noun rare The measure or extant of one's capacity; depth, as of intellect; profundity; reach; penetration.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun obsolete Grasp, envelopment, control.
  • noun nautical A measure of length corresponding to the outstretched arms, standardised to six feet, now used mainly for measuring depths in seas or oceans.
  • noun by extension Mental reach or scope; penetration; the extent of capacity; depth of thought or contrivance.
  • verb transitive, archaic To encircle with outstretched arms, especially to take a measurement; to embrace.
  • verb transitive To measure the depth of, take a sounding of.
  • verb transitive, figuratively To get to the bottom of; to manage to comprehend (a problem etc.).

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • verb measure the depth of (a body of water) with a sounding line
  • noun a linear unit of measurement (equal to 6 feet) for water depth
  • verb come to understand
  • noun (mining) a unit of volume (equal to 6 cubic feet) used in measuring bodies of ore

Etymologies

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English fathme, from Old English fæthm, outstretched arms; see petə- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English fathome, fadome, from Old English fæþm, fæþme ("outstretched or encircling arms, embrace, grasp, protection, interior, bosom, lap, breast, womb, fathom, cubit, power, expanse, surface"), from Proto-Germanic *faþmaz (“embrace”), from Proto-Indo-European *pet- (“to spread out, extend”). Cognate with Low German fadem, faem ("a cubit, thread"), Dutch vadem, vaam ("fathom"), German Faden ("thread, filament, fathom"), Danish favn ("embrace, fathom"), Swedish famn ("the arms, bosom, embrace"), Icelandic faðmur ("embrace").

Examples

Comments

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  • just beyond reach?

    compare to toise!

    The 'toise' was introduced by Charlemagne in 790; it originally represented the distance between the fingertips of a man with outstretched arms, and is thus the same as the British 'fathom'.”

    February 10, 2013