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

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

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

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

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. 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.
  • n. The measure or extant of one's capacity; depth, as of intellect; profundity; reach; penetration.
  • transitive v. To encompass with the arms extended or encircling; to measure by throwing the arms about; to span.
  • transitive v. To measure by a sounding line; especially, to sound the depth of; to penetrate, measure, and comprehend; to get to the bottom of.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • 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.
  • n. 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.
  • n. Hence Mental reach or scope; penetration; the extent of capacity; depth of thought or contrivance.

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

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


Middle English fathme, from Old English fæthm, outstretched arms.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
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"). (Wiktionary)



Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • 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