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Some people consider the effort put into retrieving the roots of words pathetic.

Which is rather interesting since, “pathetic” itself roots in a Greek word.

The word “pathetic” appeared in the English language in 1598. Although it has more than a single meaning, it is mostly used as a demoting, ironic remark meaning “pitifully inferior or inadequate or absurd and laughable”.

The word is derived from the Greek noun “πάθος” meaning “passion or suffering”. However, it is interesting that while the exact same word is derived in Greek as well, “παθητικός”, the meaning is not transferred from language to language.

In Greek, the word “παθητικός” means either someone who “suffers a condition or situation without reacting” or “something that illustrates passion”.

In British English, the word is formally used to convey “arousing pity, especially through vulnerability or sadness”. So, how did the word come to mean “laughably inadequate”? We will have to thank the human nature for that. In witnessing tragedy, humans can react in one of two ways: 1. compassionately, in which case the word “pathetic” would have its original, formal meaning or 2. sarcastically, in which case the word will be used in its informal form.

  2011  /  Pathos  /  Last Updated January 4, 2013 by Phlegyas  / 


  1. Jessica Wing says:

    Haha, wow, I had this epiphany the other day! I looked up the etymology of ‘pathetic’ and thought, ‘hang about, this isn’t right…’

    Oh, how words change in useage. It’s so lovely.

  2. noreenarshad says:

    I always had this thought. I always wondered why characters who were always deemed “pathetic”, such as Cohn from “The Sun Also Rises” seemed to win my favor. Maybe it was because in being “Pathetic”, he maintained a youthful passion, that of which ket him apart from his contemporaries. They deemed him to be “pathetic” for this reason, which always vexed me. Maybe instead of putting others down, we should be praising the strength of those who are the original embodiment of “Pathetic”, or at least use the word in its current English to honestly apply to someone worthy and deserving of empathy.

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