Podcast bathos

Printable Version
Pronunciation: bay-thos Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: The major dictionaries fail to agree on the meanings of today's word, but they seem to hover about these: 1. Lowest depth, bottom. 2. A dramatic or ludicrous fall from the exalted to the ordinary. 3. Banality, triteness.

Notes: No, this word has nothing to do with hygiene and it isn't one of the Three Musketeers. It does have an adjective, bathetic, analogous to pathetic, the adjective of pathos. However, be careful not to confuse these two words. A person displaying pathos is pathetic, which means "deserving our pity". Bathos can elicit pity, too, if it refers to an undeserved fall from grace, but it still does not mean the same thing.

In Play: President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974 was a classical bathetic event. The televised scenes of his leaving the White House were filled with bathos. However, all of us are subject to ludicrous falls from grace: "You could not help being touched by the bathos of Horace losing his job and his favorite hunting dog in the same week."

Word History: Today's Good Word is nothing but a letter-by-letter transliteration of Greek bathos "depth". We see the stem of this word in bathymetry "measurement of depth" and bathysphere "a diving vessel for extreme depths." The original PIE root produced Sanskrit gahate "to submerge, dive into" and a few Celtic words like bite "drowned" and baist "baptize". (Today we thank Lew Jury from the depths of our hearts for suggesting this often misused word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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