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Bathos (/ˈbθɒs/ BAY-thoss;[1] Greek: βάθος, lit. "depth") is a literary term, coined by Alexander Pope in his 1727 essay "Peri Bathous",[1] to describe amusingly failed attempts at sublimity (i.e., pathos). In particular, bathos is associated with anticlimax, an abrupt transition from a lofty style or grand topic to a common or vulgar one. This may be either accidental (through artistic ineptitude) or intentional (for comic effect).[2][3] Intentional bathos appears in satiric genres such as burlesque and mock epic. "Bathos" or "bathetic" is also used for similar effects in other branches of the arts, such as musical passages marked ridicolosamente. In film, bathos may appear in a contrast cut intended for comic relief or be produced by an accidental jump cut.



Alfred Lord Tennyson's narrative poem, Enoch Arden, ends with the following lines:

So past the strong heroic soul away.
And when they buried him the little port
Had seldom seen a costlier funeral.

After stanzas of heightened poetic language, the poet, in three short lines, wraps up a pathos-laden story with mundane and practical details. The effect yanks the reader out of the poetic world, simultaneously offering commentary on the finality of death and the transience of heroics.

A musical representation is found in composer Igor Stravinsky's 1923 Octet for wind instruments. The first two movements and the majority of the third movement follow traditional classical structures, albeit employing modern and innovative harmonies. The last fifteen seconds of the 25-minute work, however, abruptly and whimsically turn to popular harmony, rhythm, and style found in contemporary dance hall music.


"Moviemakers talk about "bad laughs." That's when the audience laughs when it's not supposed to. This is conceivably the first movie which is in its entirety a bad laugh."

Contemporary examples often take the form of analogies, written to seem unintentionally funny:

The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.[5]

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest features purple prose, at times exhibiting bathos:

They had but one last remaining night together, so they embraced each other as tightly as that two-flavor entwined string cheese that is orange and yellowish-white, the orange probably being a bland Cheddar and the white . . . Mozzarella, although it could possibly be Provolone or just plain American, as it really doesn't taste distinctly dissimilar from the orange, yet they would have you believe it does by coloring it differently.
Mariann Simms, Wetumpka, AL (2003 Winner)

Legendary Darts commentator Sid Waddell was famed for his one-liners, including this example:

“When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer..... Bristow is only 27.”

See also


  1. ^ a b Oxford English Dictionary, 1st ed. "bathos, n. Oxford University Press (Oxford), 1885.
  2. ^ Fiske, Robert Hartwell (1 November 2011). Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Unendurable English: A Compendium of Mistakes in Grammar, Usage, and Spelling with commentary on lexicographers and linguists. Scribner. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-4516-5134-8. 
  3. ^ Abrams, Meyer Howard; Harpham, Geoffrey Galt (2009). A Glossary of Literary Terms. Cengage Learning. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-4130-3390-8. 
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger. I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie. 
  5. ^ "Week 310: It's Like This". The Washington Post. March 14, 1999. Retrieved 1 June 2014. 


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