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Bathos (/ˈbθɒs, -θs/; Greek βάθος, meaning "depth") is an abrupt transition in style from the exalted to the commonplace, producing a ludicrous effect. While often unintended, bathos may be used deliberately to produce a humorous effect.[1][2] If bathos is overt, it may be described as Burlesque or mock-heroic. It should not be confused with pathos, a mode of persuasion within the discipline of rhetoric intended to arouse emotions of sympathy and pity.

Alexander Pope coined the rhetorical term in his 1727 essay, Peri Bathous, Or the Art of Sinking in Poetry. Increasingly, it has a place in film criticism where film transition techniques are employed to create mood whiplash and/or comic relief.



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."[3]

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.[4]

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 fine example of bathos

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

In humorous novels:

The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't.
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ Abrams, Meyer Howard; Harpham, Geoffrey Galt (2009). A Glossary of Literary Terms. Cengage Learning. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-4130-3390-8. 
  3. ^ a b Ebert, Roger.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ "Week 310: It's Like This". The Washington Post. March 14, 1999. Retrieved 1 June 2014.