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From Middle English pitous, from Old French piteus, pitus.


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piteous (comparative more piteous, superlative most piteous)

  1. Provoking pity, compassion, or sympathy.
    Synonyms: heartbreaking, heartrending, lamentable, pathetic, pitiful
    • c. 1605, William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act V, Scene 3,[1]
      [] with his strong arms
      He fastened on my neck, and bellowed out
      As he’d burst heaven; threw him on my father;
      Told the most piteous tale of Lear and him
      That ever ear receiv’d;
    • 1782, Frances Burney, Cecilia, London: T. Payne & Son and T. Cadell, Volume 2, Book 3, Chapter 4, p. 51,[2]
      [] my strength, madam, is almost all gone away, and when I do any hard work, it’s quite a piteous sight to see me, for I am all in a tremble after it, just as if I had an ague []
    • 1855, Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom, New York: Miller, Orton and Mulligan:
      In the deep, still darkness of midnight, I have been often aroused by the dead, heavy footsteps and the piteous cries of the chained gangs that passed our door.
    • 1931, Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth, New York: Modern Library, 1944, Chapter 11, pp. 80-81,[3]
      [] you go out to beg, first smearing yourself with mud and filth to make yourselves as piteous as you can.”
  2. (obsolete) Showing devotion to God.
    Synonyms: devout, pious
  3. (obsolete) Showing compassion.
    Synonyms: compassionate, tender
    • c. 1595, William Shakespeare, Richard II, Act V, Scene 3,[5]
      Thine eye begins to speak; set thy tongue there;
      Or in thy piteous heart plant thou thine ear;
      That hearing how our plaints and prayers do pierce,
      Pity may move thee ‘pardon’ to rehearse.
    • 1634, John Milton, Comus, London: Humphrey Robinson, 1637, p. 29,[6]
      The water Nymphs that in the bottome playd
      Held up their pearled wrists and tooke her in,
      Bearing her straite to aged Nereus hall
      Who piteous of her woes rea[r’]d her lanke head,
      And gave her to his daughters to imbathe
      In nectar’d lavers strewd with asphodil,
    • 1728, Alexander Pope, The Dunciad, London: A. Dodd, Book 2, p. 21,[7]
      With that the Goddess (piteous of his case,
      Yet smiling at his ruful length of face)
      Gives him a cov’ring,
    • 1783, William Blake, “An Imitation of Spenser” in Poetical Sketches, London: Basil Montagu Pickering, 1868, p. 37,[8]
      Or have they soft piteous eyes beheld
      The weary wanderer thro’ the desert rove?
      Or does th’ afflicted man thy heavenly bosom move?
  4. (obsolete) Of little importance or value.
    Synonyms: miserable, paltry, pathetic, mean, pitiful
    • 1667, John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 9, lines 1030-1034,[9]
      [] calling to minde with heed
      Part of our Sentence, that thy Seed shall bruise
      The Serpents head; piteous amends, unless
      Be meant, whom I conjecture, our grand Foe
    • 1719, Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, London: W. Taylor, pp. 158-159,[10]
      [] my Business was now to try if I could not make Jackets out of the great Watch-Coats which I had by me, and with such other Materials as I had, so I set to Work a Taylering, or rather indeed a Botching, for I made most piteous Work of it.

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