“A fathom,” he showed me stretching wide
in his black three-piece suit and silver watch chain,
“is the measure of the arms across the body from fingertip to fingertip
because fathom, or a word like it, faethm,
was the Old Northern European word for embrace.”
~Frank Delaney in Simple Courage: The True Story of Peril on the Sea.

This is the kind of stuff that makes my heart race:  using a word for a measurement from the universally understood action of embrace.  Here’s more.

A fathom is now a nautical measure of six feet,
but it was once defined by an act of Parliament as
“the length of a man’s arms around the object of his affections.”
The word derives from the Old English faethm,
meaning “the embracing arms.”  

from The QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins   

When we speak of mysteries beyond comprehension, we call them unfathomable.  You can’t wrap your arms (or your mind) around it.  Carson, my son who worked on a seiner fishing for salmon in Alaska, said, “Something is unfathomable when you run out of rope.” 

Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how incrutable his ways!

~ Paul in the espistle to the Romans



7 thoughts on “Unfathomable

  1. I think I like Carson’s definition of ‘unfathomable’, now knowing the “embrace” aspect to the word. Must be like Psalm 107 and all those sailors at the wits’ end….

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