• catharsis •
Pronunciation: kê-thahr-sis • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Purgation or release of repressed emotions by bringing them consciousness and expressing them. 2. (Medical) Physical purgation, especially of the bowels.
Notes: This word is less often spoken than written. It is particularly found in academic psychological works. It comes with an adjective, cathartic or cathartical with the optional meaningless suffix, -al. However, we must use this suffix in the adverb, cathartically. The plural, as with all borrowed nouns ending on -is, is catharses.
In Play: This word refers to a means of getting something out of your system: "Mass political protests are always a catharsis of social frustration, and sometimes they are politically effective." "Music and dance are often seen as catharses of the soul."
Word History: This word was introduced to Western intellectuals by Aristotle. His definition of tragedy is: "Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action of high importance, complete and of some amplitude; in language enhanced by distinct and varying beauties; acted not narrated; by means of pity and fear effectuating its purgation [catharsis] of these emotions" (translation by E. J. Potts, Aristotle on the Art of Fiction, London: Cambridge University Press, 1953). Catharsis has escaped from academia, though not moved far beyond. It was taken wholesale from Latin, which borrowed it from Greek catharsis "purging, cleansing", the action noun from katharein "to purify". Where this verb came from is anyone's guess. (Chris Stewart thought today's Good Word might provide a necessary catharsis for English-speakers. We thank him for it.)