Cultural Watch

pathos – Word of the Day |


Pathos / pey-thos, -thohs, -thaws / noun


  1. The quality or power in an actual life experience or in literature, music, speech, or other forms of expression, of evoking a feeling of pity, or of sympathetic and kindly sorrow or compassion.
  2. Pity.


Like all other music, it breathed passion and pathos , and emotions high or tender, in a tongue native to the human heart, wherever educated. — Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, 1850


The English noun pathos comes directly from Greek páthos “suffering, sensation, experience,” related to the verb páschein “to suffer, be affected, feel.” Both the noun and the verb come from the Greek root penth-, ponth, path-. The root path-also forms the noun pátheia “suffering, feeling” and is the second element of apátheia, empátheia, and sympátheia, source of English apathy, empathy, and sympathy. From the root penth- Greek forms the word nēpenthḗs “banishing suffering,” (literally “unsuffering”), source of the English noun nepenthe, the name of a drug or plant that brings forgetfulness of pain and suffering. Pathos entered English in the 16th century.