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pathetic, adj. and adv.

Forms:  15–16 pathetique, 15–17 pathetick, 16 pathetike, 16– pathetic; also Sc. pre-17 pathetik. (Show Less)
Frequency (in current use): 
Origin: A borrowing from Latin. Etymon: Latin patheticus.
Etymology: < post-classical Latin patheticus producing an effect upon the emotions (4th cent. as a technical term in rhetoric; in classical Latin authors as a Greek word) < ancient Greek παθητικός   capable of feeling or emotion, impassioned, emotional < παθητός   liable to suffer, subject to external influence < (παθ-  , stem of πάσχειν   to suffer and πάθος   suffering (see pathos n.) + -τός  , suffix forming adjectives) + -ικός  -ic suffix. Compare French pathétique   (1584), Italian patetico   (1575), Spanish patético   (1596 with reference to tragedy (compare sense A. 1b)), Catalan patètic   (a1400). Compare earlier pathetical adj.
In sense A. 5   after post-classical Latin nervus patheticus (T. Willis Cerebri Anatome (1664) sig. A6). Compare French nerf pathétique (1695), muscle pathétique (1842).
 A. adj.

 a. Arousing sadness, compassion, or sympathy, esp. through vulnerability or sadness; pitiable.

1591   R. Bruce Serm. Edinb. (Isa. xxxviii. 16) sig. M4   A pathetick and cutted kind of speeche, where by he testifieth that his toong walde not serue him to expresse the mater.
1606   J. Day Ile of Guls ii   Your onely way to mooue a sute by: Humbly complayning to your good worship, O tis most pathetick.
1637   T. Nabbes Microcosmus iii   Sing her some pathetick madrigall full of cromatick flats.
1737   Pope Epist. of Horace ii. i. 14   The Boys and Girls whom Charity maintains, Implore your help in these pathetic strains.
1798   J. Ferriar Illustr. Sterne vi. 174   There is one passage..which the circumstances of Sterne's death render pathetic.
1829   E. Bulwer-Lytton Devereux I. i. ii. 15   Our parting with our uncle was quite pathetic.
1885   E. Clodd Myths & Dreams ii. x. 212   Indian mothers in pathetic custom drop their milk on the lips of the dead child.
1917   S. Leacock Frenzied Fiction (1918) vii. 100   A pathetic little mite in a rabbit-skin, with blue eyes and a slobbered face.
1990   J. Meyers D.H. Lawrence vii. 94   He appealed to Frieda's mother, emphasizing his shredded nerves and pathetic suffering.

1591—1990(Hide quotations)


b. gen. Producing an effect upon the emotions; moving, stirring, affecting. Obsolete.

1598   J. Marston Scourge of Villanie x. H iij b   Some new pathetique Tragedy.
1606   J. Marston Parasitaster iii. sig. E3v   Did wee not shake the Prince with enargie?.. And most pathetique piercing Oratorie?
1665   R. Boyle Occas. Refl. iv. ix. sig. Dd7v   The more Instructive and Pathetick passages [of a sermon].
1701   J. Dennis in H. A. Needham Taste & Crit. 18th Cent. (1952) 61   That the speech by which poetry makes its imitation must be pathetic is evident, for passion is still more necessary to it than harmony.
1705   tr. A. Dacier in tr. Aristotle Art of Poetry xiii. 230   Euripides..is the most Affecting and Pathetick of all the Poets.
1762   R. Symmer in H. Ellis Orig. Lett. Eng. Hist. (1827) 2nd Ser. IV. 450   A very proper speech, delivered in a noble and pathetic manner.
1789   J. Byng Diary 25 June in Torrington Diaries II. 89   It [sc. a letter] is written in a good stile, and in a firm, and pathetic manner.
1806   E. Jerningham Poems IV. (ed. 9) 75   He distinguished himself by a peculiarly persuasive and pathetic manner of speaking.
1889   D. Hannay Life F. Marryat viii. 125   It [sc. Masterman Ready] is pathetic, and yet it is not mawkish.

1598—1889(Hide quotations)


2. Expressing or arising from passion or strong emotion; passionate, emotional; earnest. Obsolete.

1648   J. Beaumont Psyche ii. cxlv. 24   She..Renews her thanks, and her pathetike Vows.
1681   T. D'Urfey Progress Honesty viii. 9   She out of patience grows, And quells the little Rebel with pathetick blows.
1755   E. Young Centaur v, in Wks. (1757) IV. 241   Heaven..joins my pathetic wish.
1822   Byron Let. 1 Mar. (1979) IX. 118   Our meeting was quite sentimental—really pathetic on both sides.

1648—1822(Hide quotations)


a. (Of a bodily movement) expressive of emotion; or relating to the emotions. Obsolete.

1649   J. Bulwer Pathomyotomia i. iv. 16   That species of motion which they call Pathetique.
1681   S. Pordage tr. T. Willis Anat. Brain in Five Treat. xvii. 117   This Nerve..serves also for the producing some pathetick motions of the Eye.
1719–20   Swift Let. to Young Gentleman (1721) 12   Tully considered the Dispositions of a..less mercurial Nation, by dwelling almost entirely on the pathetick Part.

1649—1719–20(Hide quotations)


 b.   pathetic fallacy   n. the attribution of human emotion or responses to animals or inanimate things, esp. in art and literature.First used by John Ruskin.

1856   J. Ruskin Mod. Painters III. 160   All violent feelings..produce..a falseness in..impressions of external things, which I would generally characterize as the ‘Pathetic fallacy’.
1856   ‘G. Eliot’ in Westm. Rev. Apr. 631   Mr. Ruskin..enters on his special subject, namely landscape painting. With that intense interest in landscape which is a peculiar characteristic of modern times, is associated the ‘Pathetic Fallacy’—the transference to external objects of the spectator's own emotions.
1895   C. H. Herford Spenser's Shepheards Cal. p. xlviii   Pastoral nature is founded upon the ‘pathetic fallacy’.
1959   Listener 6 Aug. 223/2   Many awaited death..while the pathetic fallacy laboured away with ill winds and rain.
1990   Folk Roots Aug. 49/1   Moving Hearts took the main stage by storm (pathetic fallacy) in a strong reunion set.

1856—1990(Hide quotations)


4. Perhaps: causing a physical sensation; affecting the bodily senses. Obsolete. rare.

1653   R. Mason in J. Bulwer Anthropometamorphosis (rev. ed.) Let. to Author sig. ***   The stem, bark, leaves, and fruit are of such various..pathetique qualities.

1653—1653(Hide quotations)


 5. Anatomy. Designating the trochlear (fourth cranial) nerve, and the superior oblique muscle of the eye which it supplies. Now rare.Cf. quot. 1681 at sense A. 3a, and pathetical adj. 4.

1681   Table of Hard Words in S. Pordage tr. T. Willis Remaining Med. Wks.   Pathetic, to passion belonging, nerves so called by Dr. Willis.
1704   J. Harris Lexicon Technicum I   Pathetick Nerves, are the Fourth pair arising from the Top of the Medulla Oblongata.
1754   New & Compl. Dict. Arts & Sci. III. 2363/2   These nerves have obtained the name pathetic, from their serving to move the eyes in the various passions.
1797   Encycl. Brit. I/ 761/1   The fourth pair, named pathetic,—which is wholly spent upon the musculus trochlearis of the eye.
1826   Lancet 1 July 428/2   Meckel appears to regard the anastomosis of the pathetic with the ophthalmic branch as constant.
1881   St. G. Mivart Cat 271   The fourth pair of nerves, called also the Trochlear or Pathetic.
1930   H. G. Newth Marshall & Hurst's Junior Course Pract. Zool. (ed. 11) xii. 279   The fourth or pathetic nerve is a very slender nerve.

1681—1930(Hide quotations)


 a. colloq. Miserably inadequate; of such a low standard as to be ridiculous or contemptible.

1900   Westm. Gaz. 2 July 3/1   Philosophers cling with the same pathetic insistence as members of Parliament to their traditional bi-party system.
1911   E. Ferber Frog & Puddle in Buttered Side Down (1941) 102   Effie's budget bulged here and there with such pathetic items as hand-embroidered blouses, thick club steaks, and parquet tickets for Maude Adams.
1969   Listener 10 July 41/1   The military government clearly thinks it is established for good. The alleged plots against it are either mythical or, when genuine, pathetic.
1974   Liverpool Echo (Football ed.) 26 Oct. 3/2   The standard of refereeing in English soccer is pathetic. There is no consistency.
2002   Jewish Chron. 2 Aug. 26/3   There can never be any excuse for killing children.., and the pathetic verbal cavorting of political and military spokesmen is a disgrace.

1900—2002(Hide quotations)


 b. Designating or relating to art, music, etc., which is expressive of failure, inadequacy, or alienation. Esp. in pathetic art, pathetic rock.

1990   Los Angeles Times (Nexis) 14 Aug. f8/1   Pathetic art is adamantly anti-idealistic, because mass culture feeds on the propagation of idealized images.
1992   Utne Reader Nov. 100/1   Today's pathetic artists stumble down the low road of apathy and alienation.
1996   San Francisco Examiner (Nexis) 1 May c1   ‘Creep’ is the ultimate in pathetic rock, a fabulously catchy, uncommonly dramatic and comical anthem about a loser longing to be loved by a ‘special’ someone.
2001   San Diego Union-Tribune (Nexis) 15 Apr. f2   In the late 80s and early 90s, ‘slacker’ and ‘pathetic’ art..spoke to downsized expectations.

1990—2001(Hide quotations)

B. adv.
1724   W. Philips Belisarius v. 47   Extol His Fame, and dwell pathetic on his Wrongs.
1754   S. Bowden Poems Var. Subj. 45   Its hoary honours, and majestic head, To save the favourite limb, pathetic plead.
1792   Sequel Adventures Munchausen vi. 120   I spoke as pathetic as possible.
1830   J. Thomson Poet. Wks. I. 204   Whose skilful touch Pathetic drew the impassioned heart.

1724—1830(Hide quotations)


This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, June 2005).

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