pathos /ˈpāˌTHäs/, n. 1. The quality or character of those emotions, traits, or experiences which are personal, and therefore restricted and evanescent; transitory and idiosyncratic dispositions or feelings as distinguished from those which are universal and deep-seated in character; — opposed to ethos.
It continued. 2. That quality or property of anything which touches the feelings or excites emotions and passions, esp., that which awakens tender emotions, such as pity, sorrow, and the like; contagious warmth of feeling, action, or expression; pathetic quality; as, the pathos of a picture, of a poem, or of a cry.
Dear god! How did I not know about this dictionary? How could you even callyourself a dictionary if all you give for “pathos” is “a quality that evokes pity or sadness”? Webster’s definition is so much fuller, so much closer to felt experience.
Notice, too, how much less certain the Webster definition seems about itself, even though it’s more complete — as if to remind you that the word came first, that the word isn’t defined by its definition here, in this humble dictionary, that definitions grasp, tentatively, at words, but that what words really are is this haze and halo of associations and evocations, a little networked cloud of uses and contexts.
What I mean is that with its blunt authority the New Oxford definition of “pathos” — “a quality that evokes pity or sadness” — shuts down the conversation, it shuts down your thinking about the word, while the Webster’s version gets your wheels turning: it seems so much more provisional — “that which awakens tender emotions, such as pity, sorrow, and the like; contagious warmth of feeling, action, or expression; pathetic quality; as, the pathos of a picture, of a poem, or of a cry” — and therefore alive.
Most important, it describes a word worth using: a mere six letters that have come to stand for something huge, for a complex meta-emotion with mythic roots. Such is the power of actual English.
The pleasure of finding things out
I could go on forever listing examples. I could say, “Look up example, magic,sport. Look up arduous, huge, chauvinistic, venal, pell-mell, raiment, sue, smarting,stereotype. Look up the word word, and look, and up. Look up every word you used today.” Indeed that’s what motivated this post: I’d been using Webster’s dictionary for about a year; I kept looking words up, first there, then in whatever modern dictionary was closest to hand, and seeing this awful difference, evidence of a crime that kept piling up in my mind, the guilt building: so many people were getting this wrong impression about words, every day, so many times a day.
Radio Open Source had a fascinating piece on Thomas Piketty's new book: Capital in the 21st Century. A lot to unpack and probably a good introduction for those who have or are going to read it (I haven't read it yet).
They also have a short summary of some of Piketty's points in graphical form.
ROS is one of the podcasts that keeps me from going crazy during my morning exercise routine.
OUP Online Resources are free in the US April 13-19th
Libraries are a vital part of our communities- they feed our curiosity, bolster our professional knowledge, and provide a launchpad for intellectual discovery. In celebration of these cornerstone institutions, we are offering unprecedented free access to our Online Resources* in the United States and Canada to support our shared mission of education. So whether you are an academic scholar, high school student, librarian, lawyer, doctor, or an individual searching to learn something new, you'll be able to find high quality scholarship that fits your needs anywhere you are.
And remember, after this week, you can always find us back at your library!
No registration required- simply use the credentials below!