From Middle English abime, from Old French abisme from Late Latin *abyssimus, a superlative of abyssus (bottomless pit), from Ancient Greek ἄβυσσος (ábussos). Cognate to French abîme. See also abyss.[1][2]



abysm (plural abysms)

  1. (archaic, poetic) Hell; the infernal pit; the great deep; the primal chaos. [from between 1150 and 1350][2]
  2. (now chiefly literary) An abyss; a gulf, a chasm, a very deep hole. [from late 15th century][2]
    • 1623, Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, III, xiii:
      The abysm of hell.
    • 1946, Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan, London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, “The Grotto”
      Dr. Prunesquallor had circled around Steerpike with his head drawn back so that his cervical vertebrae rested against the near wall of his high collar, and a plumbless abysm yawned between his Adam’s apple and his pearl stud.
    • 2015 January 30, Glyn Maxwell, “‘Ideas of Order,’ by Neil L. Rudenstine [book review; print version: Eternal lines: A guide to Shakespeare's sonnets, International New York Times, 2 February 2015, p. 7]”, in The New York Times[1]:
      [T]he Shakespearean sonnet doesn't lend itself to a sequential narrative, because the rhymed couplet, without its paired feet trembling at that abysm of time, has to settle instead for the sound of sighing resolution, at regular intervals, over and over, before taking a deep breath and returning usually, for better or worse, to the same subject.

Alternative formsEdit



  1. ^ Christine A. Lindberg, editor (2002) , “abysm”, in The Oxford College Dictionary, 2nd edition, New York, N.Y.: Spark Publishing, →ISBN, page 6
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Lesley Brown, editor-in-chief; William R. Trumble and Angus Stevenson, editors (2002) , “abysm”, in The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 5th edition, Oxford; New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 11