• To encircle with outstretched arms, especially to take a measurement; to embrace.
  • To measure the depth of, take a sounding of.
  • To get to the bottom of; to manage to comprehend; understand (a problem etc.).


  • From Middle English fathome, fadome, from Old English fæþm, fæþme, from Proto-Germanic *faþmaz ("embrace"), from Proto-Indo-European *pet- ("to spread out, extend"). Cognate with Low German fadem, faem, Dutch vadem, vaam, German Faden ("thread, filament, fathom"), Danish favn ("embrace, fathom"), Norwegian Bokmål favn ("embrace, fathom"), Swedish famn ("the arms, bosom, embrace"), Icelandic faðmur ("embrace"), Latin pateō, Ancient Greek πετάννυμι, Ancient Greek πέταλος [whence English petal].

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